DETROIT — The Detroit 3 have agreed to a series of enhanced safety measures in their U.S. plants but plan to continue producing vehicles, despite pressure from the UAW for a two-week shutdown to protect workers from the novel coronavirus, the union said after meeting with executives from the companies late Tuesday.
The automakers will implement “rotating partial shutdown of facilities, 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.
The UAW said the automakers have also agreed to lobby in Washington on behalf of union workers. It was not immediately clear what that entailed or what the plant changes would look like. The union said more details would be released within 24 hours.
UAW President Rory Gamble said earlier Tuesday that the union was prepared to seek stronger measures if it was not satisfied that General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles were working to adequately safeguard hourly workers.
Gamble said in a letter to members and staff that the union requested a preemptive two-week shutdown based on World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He said the automakers "were not willing to implement this request" and asked for 48 hours to come up with a plan.
Pressure to close the plants had been mounting from factory workers who felt the automakers weren’t prioritizing safety, especially after GM and Ford instituted work-from-home mandates for most salaried employees and some companies began to shutter European plants.
"These changes, which include rotating shifts to allow for greater separation of employees and further enhancing our new sanitation protocols, are focused on providing a safe environment and peace of mind to our employees at their place of work." Fiat Chrysler said in a statement released late Tuesday. "Despite the continuing economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, FCA continues to work on fulfilling a strong North American order book from both fleet and dealer partners."
FCA CEO Mike Manley toured multiple facilities on Tuesday, the statement said.
“I spent time today with a number of our employees in our assembly and stamping plants," Manley said in the statement. "I wanted to see for myself how we are implementing our new cleaning and workplace protocols, and be assured that we are putting their welfare first as we continue to support the effort to arrest the spread of this virus. Ultimately this will pass, and when it does, it is important to me that we can say we worked hard with our UAW partners to provide the safest work environment for our people."
There was no immediate comment from GM.
"The health and safety of our work force is our top priority," Ford said in a statement. "We’re working closely with the UAW and are aiming to announce details in the next 24 hours."
In his earlier statement before the agreement was reached, Gamble made it clear the union was ready to take action.
"These companies will be put on notice that the UAW will use any and all measures to protect our brothers and sisters who are working in their facilities," Gamble's statement said.
"And make no mistake, we have powerful allies who have stepped up to help us. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, despite what you might have heard in some recent erroneous reports, was instrumental in assisting us in bringing the Big 3 to the table, as was U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell."
As of Tuesday evening, no automakers had shut down plants in the U.S. or Canada in connection with the pandemic, aside from some brief disruptions.
Ford’s Chicago Assembly is idled for roughly 24 hours due to a parts supply shortage stemming from a Lear plant that supplies seats to Ford. Two workers at the Lear plant tested positive for the virus, prompting it to temporarily close.
Volkswagen Group of America closed its Chattanooga plant Monday for cleaning and to help employees find child care while many schools in the area are closed. Workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario, walked off the job for about 24 hours last week after a worker who might have been exposed to the virus began a self-quarantine.
Tesla's plant in Fremont, Calif., continued running Tuesday, despite a shelter-at-home order issued for six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. And an FCA transmission plant in Kokomo, Ind., stayed online after a worker there tested positive for the COVID-19 disease.
Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday said it would temporarily halt production at its plants in continental Europe.
Canada task force
The Detroit 3 and Unifor said late Tuesday they are forming a joint task force to implement enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse employees at all three companies during the global coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement came just hours after Unifor Local 88 called for a two-week shutdown of General Motors’ CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario, where members assemble the Chevrolet Equinox. Local 88 Unit 1 chairperson Mike Van Boekel told Automotive News Canada that he called on GM to put the roughly 2,500 workers at the CAMI plant on layoff beginning March 23 for a minimum of two weeks.
The task force will consist of Unifor President Jerry Dias; Scott Bell, president and managing director, GM Canada; Dean Stoneley, president and CEO, Ford of Canada; and David Buckingham, chairman, president and CEO, FCA Canada.
In a news release, General Motors Canada said that preventative actions currently under review at the three companies’ Canadian auto facilities include visitor screening, increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points, safety protocols for people with potential exposure and those who exhibit flu-like symptoms.
“The task force members today discussed progress with additional safety practices and actions including break and cleaning schedules, health and safety education, health screening, food service and any other areas designed to improve protections for employees,” GM Canada said in the statement. “Unifor and the three Canadian automakers are in continuous communication at the national and plant levels to ensure they take appropriate actions and continue to follow the advice of medical staff and experts to help keep workers and their families protected from the COVID-19 virus. They are also maintaining ongoing communication with government and health officials at all levels.”
John Irwin, Greg Layson and Vince Bond contributed to this report.