The Detroit Three automakers and the United Auto Workers union agreed to new measures late Tuesday to protect factory workers from coronavirus, the union said.
The automakers will find ways to improve social distancing between workers at its factories andagreed to review and implement a rotating partial shutdown of facilities.
That basically means curbing production. Each company will announce its own plans, but one way would be to reduce three shifts to two, which would allow more time to clean and offer less contact between workers.
“The health and safety of our workforce is our top priority,” said Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Kelli Felker. “We’re working closely with the UAW and are aiming to announce details in the next 24 hours.”
General Motors spokesman Jim Cain said the details aren’t worked out, but, “You can expect each automaker will develop an approach that fits their unique situation and works to the same end, which is worker health and safety.”
The automakers met with UAW leaders for several hours Tuesday evening as part of a task force the parties formed to enhance health safety at factories.
Also coming out of the meeting is an agreement to implement “extensive deep cleaning of facility and equipment between shifts, extended periods between shifts, and extensive plans to avoid member contact,” the UAW said in a statement.
“They will be working on shift rotation to minimize risk,” the statement read.
To enact the changes, each company will be working with UAW vice presidents and will be arranging shifts set to adhere to CDC-required social distancing and protection of members. The UAW will release more detailed information in the next 24 hours, it said.
The group was set to start talking at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss plant safety and addressing a hot topic — the union’s request to all three that they shut down the plants entirely during the coronavirus crisis.
GM is trying to avoid a shutdown, said a person at the company who is familiar with the automaker’s preparation for the meeting.
Company officials also considered the impact of a shutdown beyond the economic hit to the company and worker’s paychecks. Thousands of parts suppliers and dealers rely on auto manufacturing for their business revenues, too.
Meanwhile, production came to a halt at Ford’s Chicago Assembly plant Tuesday due to a parts supply shortage, Ford said. That’s where Ford builds the Lincoln Aviator, Ford Explorer SUVs and Interceptor, the Explorer that is outfitted for law enforcement.
UAW President Rory Gamble said during the union’s conversation Sunday with the car companies that union leaders requested a two-week shutdown of operations “to safeguard our members, our families, our communities.”
Likewise, leaders of UAW Local 600 at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant said they filed a written grievance against Ford on Sunday asking the company to idle the plant for two weeks.
“Your UAW leadership feels very strongly, and argued very strongly, that this is the most responsible course of action,” Gamble said in a union letter. “The companies, however, were not willing to implement this request. They asked for 48 hours to put together plans to safeguard workers in their facilities.”
Meanwhile, here are the auto industry employees affected by coronavirus.
Ford announced Tuesday morning it would shut down production in its European plants effective Thursday.
FCA has closed its manufacturing operations in Europe through March 27 while keeping its plants open in the U.S.
FCA spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said there have been no production changes in the United States. A spokesman for GM also confirmed production was running normal and they were closely monitoring the situation.
Detroit Free Press staff writers Phoebe Wall Howard and Eric D. Lawrence contributed to this report.
Follow Detroit Free Press staff writer Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter @jlareauan.