As agriculture we and our employees are considered critical infrastructure. As the virus makes its way through the population, whether locked down or not, some of our employees will inevitably be exposed to someone (family member, close friend etc.) that has the virus. Being critical infrastructure, and staying working during the healthcare emergency, losing employees is not a great option but exposing your other employees to the virus isn’t a good option either.
We’ve seen what can happen in an environment such as a meat packing plant employees start to share the virus. No one wants a cotton gin to be the next hotspot of Covid-19.
The CDC has developed guidance to help critical infrastructure workers and employers deal with this situation…a situation you will have to deal with at some point. Please refer to the link below. Also download THIS DOCUMENT which is a PDF of some of the same information on how to handle these asymptomatic people.
CDC GUIDANCE ON CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE EMPLOYEES
In addition to CDC guidance for critical infrastructure, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (there are likely other sources as well) has developed a poster/guidance for employers where workers are housed in semi-communal setting such as H-2A or other migrant worker housing. Some other states are considering regulatory approach to such situations.
Please download and review the document from the Georgia Department of Ag HERE… Spanish here
The National Cotton Ginners Association has announced the cancellation of all three of the gin schools for 2020. The difficult decision came amid uncertain travel availability for instructors and organizers. Travel combined with uncertain rules in each venue made the cancellation inevitable Even if stay-at-home restrictions have been relaxed the federal phase-in protocols are going to limit gathering size etc. making it difficult to plan and conduct a school.
Harrison Ashley with the National Cotton Ginners has indicated that even though the decision was a very tough one, the NCGA is committed to the program and that they plan on bigger and better schools next year.
More information on the cancellation will be sent out in cotton’s E-News and Cotton’s Week via the National Cotton Council site.
We have just a handful of responses but I wanted to share the things our members are doing to help protect their employees and others during this Coronavirus Emergency. BTW according to the responses so far, gins in the SE have donated over 8,000 masks to help combat the spread in medical facilities. WAY TO GO!!!!
To help stop the spread from the outside world
- Office has been closed. Office employees only allowed in office.
- We have locked the doors to the office. Truck drivers call when they get to the door. We take all of their info over the phone. We unlocked the door, and we have an 8ft table separating us. We pass one sheet over for driver to sign for our copy. We’ve shut down outside vendors as well. Only outside folks that can come in or are supposed to come in at this point are truck drivers.
- Employees only no contact with drivers including paperwork.
- Doors are locked. Only employees allowed in the facilities unless there is prior approval. Drivers must check in at scale ticket window and do not touch any paperwork that we keep and warehouse crew is alerted as to which truck is getting what load. Window area is lysoled after every driver and hand sanitizer is used.
- Office limited to employees only doors locked split in two crews come in alternate days all truck drivers are dealt with through window all employees are working separately.
- We have stopped interacting with truck drivers. They have to call into the office to check in and we fill out their paperwork for them and leave them a copy outside the door. We then tell the warehouse staff which load to put on the truck without them having to have contact with the truckers.
- Office is locked to the public. Shipping of cotton and seed continues. Cotton – driver calls the office, we fill out his shipping order; make copies and put in mailbox at front door for driver to get or WH mgr takes to him. Driver remains in truck during his visit. Seed – seed truck drivers pull on the scale, call us with load number and other required information; we weigh them in, they get their load, we complete their paperwork (no signature was OK’d by Chickasha) and put in mailbox at front door. Any other business is by appt only.
- We are not allowing truck drivers inside the office. I meet them outside to sign papers and tell them where to go to be loaded.
- We have stopped truckers from coming in the office. We deal with them through a service window and via a speaker that is designed to talk to module truck drivers during the season. We have stopped all salesman from coming into the office. We have designed specific tasks for all personnel so that they maintain distance between them. We’ve subdivided the warehouse and assigned personnel their own forklift and area to pull from so they don’t break social distances.
- Stopped all traffic into office. Truckers, salesman, delivery drivers, are met outside and paperwork handled at picnic table.
- Closed except for truck drivers. Ask that drivers remain in the truck except for opening & closing of doors. paperwork transfer only goes one direction.
- Closed the office to employees only. Limit contact with truck drivers through window at scales.
- Office doors are locked. All interaction with truck drivers is through the door. Vendors are met outside, none showing up now though.
- Changed the way we interact with truck drivers that pick up cotton. No vendors or sales people on site.
- We have locked the office and allow no one in. Truck drivers call the office number, that we have posted on our door, to give the pertinent pickup information. Paperwork is handled by cracking a sliding window in the office.
- Only open to truck drivers or by appointment
- No drivers inside office. All paperwork filled outside. Only employees allowed in the office. locked the doors and pass paperwork to drivers through the window
To Help Stop the Spread Between Employees
- Social Distancing guidelines that the state has put in to place. 6′ apart wash hands 20 Secs
- We have discussed the virus and importance of social distancing. Warehouse employees are already separated for most part. We have kept our distance within the office. Gin employees are the toughest at this point. We are trying social distancing best we can. But the key team in the gin is still in there making repairs and working. We’ve also stressed the importance of social distancing and avoiding crowds once they leave work and go home.
- Skeleton crew and implementation of no contact policy.
- Made sure employees have plenty of hand soap at all washing stations.
- Alternate work days and separate working areas
- They have been told to wash their hands frequently and stay apart 6 feet or more if around each other but the majority of our workers are spaced out into different warehouses and are not around each other.
- Hand sanitizer, soaps, wipes, masks, etc are provided as we have them 1. Office closed to public. Surfaces are wiped down several times per day. 2. WH employees are not within close proximity of each other pulling loads. They have been instructed to wipe down FL and wash hands often. 3. Only two employees in gin working on breakdown. All is working well as long as we can get the supplies we need. Waiting on smaller personal bottles to put hand sanitizer in.
- Frequent Handwashing & frequent disinfecting door knobs etc.
- Trying to stay 6’ apart. Encouraging regular hand washing and disinfecting door knobs as often as possible.
- Split crew into bale warehouse and gin crew. Warehouse crew reports directly to the warehouse and has no contact with the gin other than by phone. No issues so far.
- Split workers into 2 groups alternating days.
- No area with more than 6 employees. All employees to maintain distance between themselves. If any signs of any illness, the employee is not allowed to come to work. Frequent hand washing is required and sanitizer is located conveniently for all employees.
- Eliminated the interaction between employee’s. frequent sanitation of each area. setting up a separate break area and restrooms for each employee. All are working well
- We are not allowing people to gather in the break room. Frequent hand washing is being encouraged. Warehouse people are separated anyway on their forklifts. The gin crew is working separated as much as possible. Daily checks and reinforcement of the facts concerning the need to social distance and not to be around other people when they are off the job is done by the gin manager. He encourages everyone to do their part.
- We are on a skeleton crew right now anyway. We are limiting contact between employees and letting them work in different areas.
- Split shifts, working from home.
- social distancing
Just a quick note to let you all know that the SBA has issued some new rules on the PPP program. These are interim final rules but not final final rules. All this means is that it is subject to change. One take-away is that the interest rate which was 1/2% is now 1% and in the law allowed up to 4% but SBA has kept it at 1 for now.
The best summary I could find for the rules as of yesterday is found here:
I hope this helps.
The SBA has updated their cronoavirus assistance page. That has shed more light on the Paycheck protection program. Additionally the Treasury Department has issued some additional guidance on the program as well. We recommend you visit this website often and poke around. The links on SBA’s site have changed often and don’t always take you where you think you need to go. I’m sure they are overwhelmed at this point as well. Some of the best information can be found on the Treasury website linked below as well.
The program total availability is $349 Billion. It appears this will be used for the payroll portion of the loans. According to the Treasury guidance linked below, it is expected that although the loans can be for 2 months of Rent, Utilities, and Mortgage Interest as well as Payroll, only 25% of non-payroll portion of the loan will be forgiven while all of the payroll expenses will be. This is an estimate by Commerce so that it will use the $349 Billion for paychecks. The rest can be paid back over a two year period with no pre-payment penalty.
The small business applications can begin processing as early as tomorrow April 3. We recommend if you are anticipating using one of these loans, to work with your lender TODAY. Additionally the National Cotton Council has posted a summary page with a number of assistance programs.
TREASURY PAGE ON PPP FOR SMALL BUSINESS
SBA PAGE ON SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS
NCC COVID-19 ASSISTANCE PAGE (Requires NCC Member Password)
This could be a long post so buckle up. There are several things that need to be consolidated into one place and I will attempt to do that here.
As of this writing there have been three phases of assistance that has been put together by the Federal Government to help businesses get through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 emergency. The three were the original declaration and availability of some SBA loans. The second was the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) and the third is the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). The latter two of these have some things that most gins will need to pay attention to. Additionally, we intend to explore the ability for gins to stay open and gin workers to travel to and from work each day even under a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order.
Under the FFCRA, there were two pieces that have been covered in this blog but there have been some slight clarifications. Under the Emergency Sick Leave provisions employees can take up to two weeks off paid by the employer for a number of reasons. Those reasons are explained on the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour page that can be found here. One confusing piece of that is reason #1 on the list. It states that the individual Is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19. This does not mean that the business shut down due to a shelter in place order but that the EMPLOYEE cannot leave their home for any reason because of a lock-down quarantine as we’ve seen on a very limited basis. Under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act provisions of the FFCRA, an employee can take an additional 10 weeks (total of 12) off if they have to take care of a child due to a coronavirus related school or daycare closing.