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Local firms’ Mexican plants focus on hygiene

Face masks, meds used as precaution

Eastern Washington companies with factories in Mexico are giving workers face masks and anti-viral medication and watching government health reports as the swine-flu outbreak continues to raise public health alarms.

Three manufacturers – Key Tronic Corp., Schweitzer Engineering Labs and Telect Inc. – have made worker hygiene a top priority at their Mexican sites.

Pullman-based Schweitzer Engineering, with more than 200 workers at the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi, has hired a nurse to remain in the factory to monitor worker health, said company spokeswoman Adina Bielenberg. The company also has a doctor on call to address health concerns, she added.

Workers are also being given doses of Amantadine, a drug to prevent the onset of the flu virus.

Schweitzer makes power protection units and relays. Its Mexican plant makes cases for those units.

Cleaning staff at the San Luis Potosi site also make more frequent efforts to sanitize doors and handles. Workers all receive face masks while inside the factory, added Bielenberg.

Spokane Valley contract manufacturer Key Tronic has production plants in Juarez and in Reynoso. Chief Financial Officer Ron Klawitter said those cities, both right across the border from the United States, have not had confirmed cases of swine flu.

Health officials suspect the disease has killed more than 150 people in Mexico and sickened 1,600; the outbreak of swine flu started in that country and has spread globally.

Key Tronic’s Juarez factory has between 1,600 and 1,800 workers, and accounts for 80 percent of its products, Klawitter said.

One impact is a delay in deliveries to both its factories. Klawitter said customs agents on both sides are looking for drivers or passengers with symptoms and refusing to allow them to cross.

Liberty Lake-based Telect employs 195 at a plant in Guadalajara, where no flu cases have been reported yet, said corporate Human Resources Manager Stephany Manning. The plant is in south-central Mexico.

Workers there have been given masks and the company has posted information about the disease and how to prevent its spread.

“There’s obviously quite a bit of concern,” she said.

Telect makes telecom equipment for communications companies.

Manning said hygiene has received emphasis at the plant cafeteria where utensils are handed out in sealed plastic sleeves.

The government Monday ordered all schools closed until May 6, Manning noted, which may increase absenteeism among parents who will have to mind their children. There was no indication Tuesday workers were staying home instead of coming to work, she said.

Klawitter said Key Tronic is closely watching for updated lists of disease occurrences in Mexico, hoping its two plants stay protected from the flu virus. “We just hope it passes quickly,” he said.

Staff writer Bert Caldwell contributed to this report.