After several discussions and a joint call over the weekend, the UAW and the Detroit Three car companies are forming a COVID-19/Coronavirus Task Force to provide more protection to workers in warehouses and factories.
“Workplace health and safety is a priority for us every day; all three companies have been taking steps to keep the COVID-19/coronavirus out of their facilities and during this national emergency, we will do even more working together,” said UAW President Rory Gamble, who convened the leaders of all three companies.
“All options related to protecting against exposure to the virus are on the table,” said Gamble.
Many UAW members at Detroit Three factories have reached out to the Free Press in recent days with concerns about possible exposure to coronavirus while on the job.
“We’re actually scared on the floor,” said a UAW member at a Detroit Three plant who asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job. “I’m a robot electrician and when a robot breaks and I have to fix it, you can have five or six guys all working on that robot. If one of us has coronavirus, we’re all exposed. We’re nervous and no one’s really doing anything to look out for us.”
This worker said factory workers must get inside the cars in small groups to assemble them, risking exposure. There is also a fear that the virus could live on surfaces such as cardboard, plastic and stainless steel for hours or days at a time.
“Everything that is shipped into an auto plant is cardboard and plastic, so we don’t just have to worry about people,” said this worker.
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Late last week, the Detroit Three said many in the salaried workforce will be working from home for the next two weeks to avoid close contact among employees and possibly spreading the virus.
But hourly workers in manufacturing plants cannot work from home, presenting them with a unique situation. And while sporting events and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Detroit have been canceled or postponed to practice “social distancing” by calling off large public gatherings, the production at the Detroit Three’s plants must go on, the companies said.
Gamble, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Jim Hackett and Fiat Chrysler Automobile CEO Michael Manley will lead the task force.
They will be joined by Terry Dittes, vice president of UAW-GM Department, Gerald Kariem, vice president of UAW-Ford Department, and Cindy Estrada, vice president of UAW-FCA Department, as well as the medical staffs, and the manufacturing and labor leadership teams at all three companies.
“The social distance in an auto plant is light year’s different from a bar, restaurant or theater,” said GM spokesman Jim Cain. “We have made adjustments to overtime and shift schedules to provide more opportunities to clean surfaces in the plants.”
At GM Canada’s manufacturing operations the automaker is communicating closely with Canada’s autoworker union, Unifor, and employees, Cain said.
“We are following the same extra safety precautions and procedures (as) our US manufacturing operations,” Cain said.
The coronavirus is “a fluid and unprecedented situation,” the automakers said. So the task force will act quickly to build on the preventive measures already in place, they said.
The companies and the UAW are coordinating to prevent the spread of coronavirus by doing the following, they said.
- There will be increased visitor screening.
- Increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points.
- The companies will implement safety protocols for people with potential exposure and who exhibit flu-like symptoms.
The joint task force’s areas of focus will include:
- Vehicle production plans
- Additional social distancing
- Break and cleaning schedules
- Health and safety education
- Health screening and food service.
As the joint task force identifies enhancements, each company and the UAW will provide regular updates to the workers, a statement said.