Sumitomo Dunlop employee tests positive for COVID-19

But company vows to stay open until April 20
Posted at 4:44 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-14 17:17:30-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The fears of many employees at the Sumitomo Dunlop tire plant have now become reality: one of their co-workers has tested positive for COVID-19.

Company leaders sent a text alert to employees Tuesday stating, "Today April 14 we were notified that a salaried team member tested positive for COVID. This team member was on a precautionary quarantine since April 3rd. This Team member was infected by a spouse whom showed signs of being ill first. He/She was sent home on a precautionary basis and we initiated the COVID response team and cleaned the area thoroughly."

But employees took to a union Facebook page to complain that Sumitomo, while vowing a "commitment to transparency," has not told its workers the name of the department in which the infected employee worked.

"Transparency would be letting everyone know the department and all the departments that could potentially be infected," one person wrote.

Russell Pustulka, HR director for Sumitomo, declined to answer questions by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team, including how many employees have been tested for the virus.

But in the message to employees, company officials said they contacted "the Health Department" (they did not specify whether they were referring to the state or county health departments) and spoke with government officials who "appreciated the heads up and stated we are implementing the right processes," including cleaning of the plant.

"The Health Department made no recommendations to close because of the nature of the initial spread and actions we took," the message from Sumitomo management stated. "We will continue to operate as today through the planned shutdown period because there has not been team member to team member transfer."

That did not sit well with employees on the Facebook page.

"How could they possibly know there was no transfer," one asked.

The Japanese tire-maker announced last weekthat it was closing the Town of Tonawanda factory for two weeks starting on April 20 out of precaution for the community spread of COVID-19.

The move followed reporting by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team in which multiple employees voiced concerns about why the plant was not shutting down during a global pandemic.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz had also voiced concerns about the plant staying open at a time when public health officials nationwide are urging people to stay home and avoid contact with others.

It also came three days after the New York State Attorney General's Office started looking into the tiremaker after receiving complaints of "unsafe working conditions" at the factory.

Company officials have repeatedly stated that they are an "essential" business to the transportation industry and have taken safety precautions to protect their employees.

Click here to read the statement from Sumitomo.