KOKOMO, Ind. (WISH) — General Motors has reopened in Kokomo to manufacture ventilators for hospitals that have a shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The auto company converted an old office building next door to its plant to produce ventilators.
Matt Collins, president of the United Auto Workers Local 292, said 180 employees were laid off due to the coronavirus and around 60 people were laid off indefinitely because there wasn’t enough work at the plant in March.
“It was due to our numbers just dropping in the Kokomo plant, just not having a new business come in and the current projects that we’re working on was just dwindling down,” said GM employee Mandy Rhoades.
Many laid-off workers said the time off has been tough as they look forward to providing for their families again.
“To know that we can do our part and give back not only to our community but to possibly the world, it feels really good,” employee Penni Cox said.
General Motors plans to hire more than 1,000 workers to produce ventilators as production already started. The company plans to make 30,000 by the end of the summer.
Salaried and hourly employees from across the Midwest have been coming to work at the new manufacturing facility. Rhoades and Cox told News 8 the job has some challenges as they’re used to working with auto parts and not a health care device.
“There’s lots of little stations to build different parts that has to do with the ventilator and once it’s done then it’s all assembled in one little location,” Cox said.
Rhoades added, “It’s a lot. It’s overwhelming as far as how many parts are in the ventilator itself, but we’re up for the challenge. It’s definitely something that we can do. We want to prove to GM that Kokomo is 100% capable of everything they can throw at us.”
Collins said GM will continue to produce ventilators over 18 months in Kokomo.