Park Ex residents working at manufacturing plant fear for safety amid COVID-19 outbreak

At least eight infected workers live in Park Extension, one is hospitalized

Avleen K Mokha

Employees of a LumenWerx facility have come forward to report unsafe working conditions in a manufacturing plant. At least 10 employees at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19, Parc-Extension News has learned. At least eight infected workers live in Park Extension, including one who is hospitalized. Despite multiple employees testing positive, the facility remains open.

Additionally, employees claim their supervisors have harassed them to keep working, despite COVID-19 symptoms and lack of protective equipment.

lumenwerx employees covid-19 outbreak
Street view of the LumenWerx production facility in Ville Saint-Laurent. Photo: Google / screenshots

LumenWerx is a lighting manufacturing company with a facility in Ville Saint Laurent. Facility workers include many South Asian immigrants, who take a bus or carpool to work.

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed early May. However, the infected worker was allegedly told to not disclose his positive test result with other workers.

Twelve LumenWerx employees spoke to Parc-Extension News on the condition of anonymity, due to fear of losing their jobs. We are giving workers pseudonyms to protect their identities.

Earliest case May 4, supervisor infected

Workers from multiple sections of the facility say they have COVID-19, or know someone in their section that has tested positive. The facility has a production chain of five sections. An order goes through many sections to be completed.

Bibek, a worker that has tested positive for COVID-19, said his manager confirmed the plant had one of their earliest cases in the first week of May.

Now, the supervisor himself has tested positive for COVID-19.

“This supervisor manages about 70% of our work,” another worker added. “He comes to visit our worktables all the time.”

Unsafe working conditions

Insufficient equipment

“They TOLD US, this is all the company HAS TO give you.”

Each worker receives six single-use gloves, one for each day.

Many workers, including Akbar, say plastic gloves are prone to breaking, making it impossible to work with screws and mechanical equipment.

“We told them we didn’t have enough to do our work,” Akbar said. “They told us this is all the company has to give you.”

Employees receive one pair of fabric gloves for a whole week. Fabric gloves, which are often worn over the plastic gloves, cannot be cleaned during breaks.

Many workers say the facility has not reliably provided hand sanitizer. Sipu, an employee at the facility, says he often came to work to find no disinfectant available.

When he asked management, company representatives said they had no sanitizer left to give them.

No disinfection between shifts

Common spaces, worktables, and shared tools may not be sanitized between shifts, workers allege.

Primtu, another worker with COVID-19, says supervisors cannot keep a distance of two meters due to the technical nature of manufacturing lights.

Even when a two-meter distance is possible during work, physical distancing is not enforced during break time. For instance, 15 to 20 workers line up to reheat food during break time.

Workers do not receive additional time to ensure hand-washing.

Difficulty isolating

Workers infected with COVID-19 say self-isolation is difficult because of overcrowded housing in the Park Extension neighbourhood.

Akbar lives in Park Extension with four family members in a one-bedroom apartment. He lives with his partner, his child, and a relative over 70.

Saddu has a family of five, including three young children, living in a two-bedroom apartment in Park Extension.

The hospitalized LumenWerx employee shares a modest apartment in Park Extension, with 7 to 8 people living in one household.

Lack of transparency

The earliest positive case dates back to May 4, Parc-Extension News has learned. However, workers were not told the facility had COVID-19 cases. Employees only found out after they or their friend had become infected.

Bibek says his supervisor admitted to lying about his COVID-19 symptoms, during a conversation on the phone.

“He said he left work because he had drunk ‘too much wine,’” Bibek said. “That made me really suspicious.”

Makju, another worker with COVID-19, says he got a similar answer when a colleague stopped coming to work.

Persistent harassment

“If you say anything, they fire you. If they keep you, they mistreat you.”

Workers expressed frustration at ongoing issues in the company, saying their voices often go unheard.

Parth, who has worked at the facility for years, says approaching human resources only worsens matters.

“If you say anything, they fire you,” Parth said. “If they keep you, they mistreat you.”

Bibek says his employers have harassed him for wanting to take a day off, which his contract permits. He shared that when he needed to visit a doctor, his boss asked for the doctor’s phone number to directly confirm his visit. 

“We have to choose between making a living and being treated with dignity,” Bibek added.

Still hiring

Despite multiple positive tests in May, the facility has not closed.

In fact, a job listing made by LumenWerx reveals the company held a “walk-in day” on May 28 at the facility to hire job-seekers.

Bibek says he does not want new employees to risk their lives, nor get trapped in the toxic cycle of working at the facility.

“We used to learn about slavery in school,” Bibek said. “At work, we live it with our own eyes.”

A health inspector allegedly visited the facility the first week of June.

Workers claim their supervisors knew ahead of time to expect a visit. In preparation, their supervisors moved work stations away from each other to create the illusion of physical distancing during the inspection.

Moreover, the inspector did not speak with employees without the presence of a supervisor.

Bibek says that LumenWerx should temporarily close the facility and test all employees.

“They have a responsibility to test its workers,” Primtu agreed. “The government needs to investigate the unsafe conditions at our facility.”

At the time of printing, we do not have any comments from LumenWerx representatives. We reached out the Project Manager who allegedly has COVID-19 and the Human Resources Manager. We have also contacted the company’s President & CEO, the Chief Technology Officer, the Vice President for Business Operation, the Vice President for Project Management & Customer Satisfaction, and one Regional Sales Manager.

This story was first published in print for the June 12 issue of Parc-Extension News. Click here to read the full issue.