Union Workers Make Masks for Hospitals and Essential Workers

Recently, Xerox published a story (McCue, Matt, “How Xerox Turned Filters into Face Masks) describing how they worked together with another Rochester company to manufacture face masks aiming to protect health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. The story details the whole process from initial inspiration to the final product. What is especially significant is that these two companies were brought together by their connections to Rochester Regional Joint Board (RRJB).

In Rochester and around the country, companies were asked to think about ways in which they could contribute to manufacturing much needed supplies such as personal protection equipment and hand-sanitizer. Stern and Stern, a producer of woven industrial fabrics and home to our Local 221, is producing protective medical fabric. A clothing designer from one of our union companies, Hickey Freeman, started to sew face masks to potentially supply local hospitals.

Xerox also answered the call. Mark Adiletta, a long-time Xerox engineering manager wondered if they could use printer filters to make medical-grade face masks. They currently produced a printer that used a filter with an N95 rating. The CDC specifies that a mask with an N95 rating helps to prevent the spread of Flu, swine flu and avian flu, as well as COVID-19. With the help of Abu Islam, the head of the Advanced Technology Group who is leading the task force to implement these community-based ideas, Adiletta made a prototype using cloth.

With a prototype in hand, they needed someone who could manufacture them quickly – a company who could sew the masks, something that Xerox did not have the ability to do. Gary Bonadonna and Ross Clark of RRJB was able to help bring together the two companies resulting in the manufacturing of 10,000 masks within the first two weeks.

Both Xerox and Hickey Freeman have a long history with the union. Xerox (Local 14A) has a charter date 2/28/1952 and Hickey Freeman (Local 14) has a charter date of 6/28/1915 – both affiliation through ACWA at that time.

Bonadonna says, “We all felt the pressure to move quickly to do anything that could help our front-line workers. It has been amazing to see how all parties involved have been able to respond and work together towards a common goal. I am especially grateful to our union workers who are at their place of work, making protective devices that will potentially save thousands of lives.”

Clark, the business representative for Xerox and Hickey Freeman says, “If helping to bring these two unionized companies together during the COVID 19 Crisis helps create a positive impact during this challenging time, it shows no matter how big or how small, now more than ever, our communities need us working together advancing mutual interests.”

There were 12 Hickey Freeman workers who sewed 10,000 masks in three days. Each worker averaged sewing one mask every two minutes. The masks were delivered to Rochester Regional Hospital, as well as to other essential workers.

As of April 16, Hickey Freeman Union Workers are producing 6,000 masks per day. In addition, 25 workers have been called in to work.

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