CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Volkswagen is requiring production workers hired for its new U.S. assembly plant to go through a fitness program on top of the usual job training, aiming to forge an "industrial athlete" who can lift, grip, bend and push without flagging.
VW formally opened its training academy at the $1 billion plant site Friday. But dozens of workers already had been building their bodies there before they start building cars.
Production is set to begin early next year.
Jason Guess, the VW plant's manager of safety, health and wellness, said the fitness training is unique among VW plants globally.
Since April, fitness trainers have had new hires taking part in "on-the-clock" workouts that follow health testing and are individually tailored to future jobs in the paint shop, body shop or assembly.
VW wellness-disability specialist Marsha Wood said exercises in the two-hour daily workout sessions directed by Progressive Health Rehabilitation Services are linked to movements the workers will do every day and include stretching, cardiovascular strength, endurance, grip and how much employees can push and pull.
She said the workers go through a three-week job orientation before starting the fitness regimen.
Guess said there is no weight threshold to keep a job but that some workers have lost 30 pounds in three weeks of workouts.
The plant will have an onsite fitness center that can also be used by workers' families, Guess said the workouts also help build camaraderie.
Anthony Staton, 45, an assembly worker who finished the fitness program, said he didn't like it at first. "I felt like my hand was being forced a little bit," he said. Staton worked at a desk job at home for about four years and had a sedentary lifestyle before getting hired by VW.
"That first week was really rough," Staton said. "After the first week I started noticing some changes in my body. I could do a flight of stairs a little more easily. I didn't get winded as easily."
Staton said he has dropped about 30 pounds.
What's your take on this? At what point does employer concern for employee (and their productivity fitness) become Big Brother intruding on private lives? We've already seen employers ban all tobacco use on and off duty (and requiring regular testing for use), testing for Body Mass Index to determine fitness, withholding of bonuses for overweight workers, and other such measures. Where's the line?