In the beginning of the pandemic, millions stayed home to protect themselves and others from the deadly coronavirus that would later kill 23,000 Hoosiers.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RV BOOM
Binghui Huang and Kristine Phillips
Illustrated by :
Grocery stores were rationing hand sanitizers.
But the workers who kept the state running and the economy afloat — from meatpackers to RV makers — crowded inside factories where they say safety was secondary to pursuing profits.
In Elkhart County, the RV capital of the world, factories went into overdrive to meet a surging demand for RVs. Workers suffered. But IOSHA rarely inspected COVID concerns at the plants.
Workers say they were forced to show up sick and injured as RV companies made record profits.
This graphic novel represents the accounts we heard from more than 20 RV workers about the health and safety issues they faced in factories during the pandemic — and their futile efforts to get safety regulators at the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration to intervene.
Can you believe the RV Industry was deemed an "essential business?"
Money talks, I guess.
EVERYONE: PLEASE STAY 6-FEET APART AND PUT ON A MASK BEFORE ENTERING THE FACTORY!
We really appreciate you coming in. We really need you.
It's not providing food or healthcare or emergency services. It's providing luxury products to rich people.
Line up here! We need to take your temperature before you enter.
Go stand in front of a fan.
Ok, you're good to go into work now.
I am honestly worried. I don't want to feel like I'm being paranoid. I have developed a slight cough… I have constant headaches these past few days. Diarrhea for the past few days.
Girl this makes me so mad. I can’t believe they had you stay at work.
Out of 30 on my team I have 13 here
He was coughing everywhere before he started throwing up
Dude throwing up everywhere though is scary
He heard yall were already infected so what was one more?
In the same factory...
Ted is still here? I just saw him throwing up earlier today.
Sir, can I talk to you for a second? I noticed that Ted is at work today...
I have to say this again: but he needs to go home.
I’m pretty sure it’s not COVID.
Can we get a hand on this, Ted?
Yeah, sorry. Give me a minute.
We don't have any COVID tests, so how can you be "pretty sure?"
THEY'VE HAD POSITIVE COVID-19 IN THE PLANT. MAN VOMITING, COMPLAINING OF PAIN.
Throughout the pandemic, this pattern continued, with factory workers moving at breakneck speed to meet the demand – even when they were sick or injured.
At another factory nearby...
Is that Christine?
Christine, what are you doing here?!
I got called back in.
I can't believe this.
Go home. You’re sick. I want you better. Also none of us want COVID. Why does he keep calling you in?
THEY HAVE TO WORK AND WILL NOT BE PAID UNEMPLOYMENT IF THEY CHOOSE TO QUARANTINE
The employees work within inches of other employees.
Employers knew an employee was sick and being tested and allowed him to work all last week. He tested positive last Friday.
Hundreds filed complaints about the RV and related industries.
If my bosses won't do anything about this, then I need to contact IOSHA.
But IOSHA rarely sent inspectors to the factories. The RV Industry Association said the safety of workers is paramount, and its Workplace Safety Taskforce ensured plants reopened safely.
Meanwhile, the pandemic created a boom for RV companies. Demand for RVs was at an all-time high. Sales soared by the billions.
In 2021, the industry sold about 600,000 RVs, a historic high.
The two biggest RV makers, accounting for two-thirds of RVs, made record profits.
Nobody cares …
What is the safety net here?
I hope they look at us as people and not as a dollar sign
More than 6,000 workers across Indiana rang alarm bells to IOSHA during the pandemic. It’s the third highest in the country.
That’s less than 1%, the lowest of any state.
IOSHA inspected only 44 complaints.
To learn more, read our investigation on indystar.com.
IOSHA said the state's efforts to promote the inspection process drove the high volume of complaints. Despite the low rate of inspections, IOSHA said it followed up on all complaints and found majority of the companies were following CDC and OSHA guidance.