CLEVELAND — Sex toys, envelopes and craft supplies are among the products Ohio workers say their companies continue to make or distribute under the protection of being so-called "essential employers" as most businesses across the state have shut down during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Workers are raising concerns about their health and safety and remain skeptical whether employers are finding loopholes during Ohio's stay at home order issued by Gov. DeWine requiring non-essential businesses to close as of Monday night.
"I'm afraid of being fired if I don't come to work," said one employee at AmeriMark, a Cleveland-based direct marketer of women's apparel, shoes, cosmetics and health related merchandise --including more than 30 sex toys included in its "health living essentials."
The company also distributes wrist blood pressure monitors, pulse oximeters, glucose monitors and wheelchairs. The Ohio Department of Health's "Stay at Home Order" specifically includes "distributors of medical equipment."
In a recorded message to its employees, workers are being told, "We are happy to report AmeriMark will remain in operation during this period...in this unparalleled time, we are excited to serve AmeriMark customers."
The company has not yet responded to our inquiry.
"My concern is that there are a lot of elderly women working here," said another worker concerned about passing the virus from person to person.
The State's Stance
During Tuesday's news conference, Lt. Governor Jon Husted acknowledged confusion over the definition of an "essential business" and referred employers to Ohio's coronavirus website.
"It's written in plain language, we ask you to follow the language and use your best judgment," said Husted. "Please don't call law enforcement and ask them to interpret it for you."
"You don’t need a letter, certification or clearance. You do need to have a rationale about how the order applies to you," said Husted. "If you have a question – read it – come to your justification and have it prepared in case you’re asked."
He said if businesses are not following the order they will eventually be "called on it by an employee or a competitor."
"Please don't let it come to that," he said.
More concerned workers
Another Cleveland company, Cenveo, is raising questions among workers who produce envelopes--including some used by the U.S. Postal Service.
"Why are we essential?" asks one employee. "We make one type of envelope for the postal service--I'm afraid of losing my job if I don't show up."
A news release issued by by the company on March 17, said "precautionary measures have been put in place at both our office and manufacturing facilities as we continue to operate in our regular course of business."
Cenveo, based in Stamford, Connecticut, identifies itself as a "world leader in the management of print and related offerings" and has not yet responded to our inquiry.
"Crafting is non-essential," said one Michaels employee. "Are they above the rules?"
A company release addressing the COVID-19 outbreak said "we are taking precautionary measures to ensure our corporate offices, stores, distribution centers and other facilities minimize the risk."
In a message to Joann customers, the company said "now more than ever it is important to safely provide what these Americans need to support their livelihood, mental wellness and community giving."
Among those items, the company is encouraging customers to help make "protective non-surgical masks and gowns during this critical time."
The company adds that it is "taking action to ensure we are protecting our facilities, customers and teams across the nation."
Ask Sherwin Williams
A worker at a Sherwin Williams paint plant in Massillon asks, "Since when is bodyfiller and paint essential? It shows they don't care about their employees at all."
The company responded saying "the health and safety of our customers and employees during this pubic health emergency is of utmost concern" adding it has closed the sales floors at its paint stores and is allowing customers to shop online instead.
Regarding its manufacturing facilities, the company says: "We serve a critical role supplying product customers who support health care facilities, manufacturing plants and other infrastructure."
They are among just a handful of Ohio workers concerned over their health and safety at work--many worried they will be fired if they fail to show up.
From a company manufacturing aluminum parts to workers at a food distribution center--all remain concerned over how companies are remaining open and possibly jeopardizing their health.
"Keeping open is just a way for them to get money," concludes one worker.