DETROIT — The UAW said Tuesday that it continues to talk with the Detroit 3 automakers about protecting workers even as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced plans to resume production at most U.S. plants the week of May 18.
The decision, announced as part of FCA's first-quarter earnings report, comes after the automaker pushed back initial plans to reopen plants early this month. The union opposed an early May return to work, but a UAW statement Tuesday did not renew its previous opposition.
"As for the start date, the companies contractually make that decision and we all knew this day would come," UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement. "Our UAW focus and role is and will continue to be, on health and safety protocols to protect our members."
FCA said Tuesday it plans to restart production at its North America plants, with the exception of the Jeep Cherokee factory in Belvidere, Ill., the week of May 18. The Belvidere factory, which has been idled numerous times in recent months to match output with demand, is expected to open by June 1.
FCA CEO Mike Manley said the production plan was developed after "continuous discussions" with the UAW and governors of states where FCA operates, particularly Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.
"This is a reflection on the progress that has been made in our home states and the comprehensive health and safety measures we are adopting in our plants," Manley said during an earnings call Tuesday. "We don't expect that to change between now and the 18th, but we will continue to work very closely with each of the governors to make sure that we progress towards that reopening on May 18."
Gamble said FCA's decision is personal.
"My own family will be among those reporting and my responsibility to our UAW members and my family will be consistent," he said in the statement. "We must implement and follow these guidelines and self-reporting procedures we have worked out. And the UAW will fulfill its role to continue to actively monitor and aggressively respond regarding all issues impacting the health and safety of UAW members in whatever manner may be necessary as we return to the worksite."
In Canada, Unifor President Jerry Dias said he has been losing confidence in a safe return to work since he first told Automotive News Canada on April 25 that he was “cautiously optimistic” about an early-May restart. A few days later, he said “people are afraid” to return to work.
“I need to make sure their concerns are completely alleviated before we would give any sort of a green light,” said Dias, who hasn’t spoken with local Unifor leadership at FCA plants in more than a week. “With this date being kicked around, I’m going to have to have another conversation.
"The bottom line is, before I give anything the final seal of approval, I have to makes sure the local union leadership is comfortable with what transpired in the plants. Until they give me the go-ahead, I’m not there.”
In Michigan, the governor's current stay-at-home order expires May 15. She has hinted that manufacturing could be the next industry to reopen after the commercial and residential construction and real estate sectors restart on Thursday.
But the governor’s office was noncommittal when asked Tuesday whether Whitmer would lift restrictions for automakers and suppliers after May 15.
“We appreciate the work the companies and the UAW have done and will announce something as soon as we are ready,” Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.
In order to fulfill the supply chain to assembly plants in Michigan, other states and Canada, the Michigan Manufactures Association has urged Whitmer to allow suppliers to reopen a week before the automakers resume production, MMA CEO John Walsh said Tuesday.
“We think it’s imperative to get the supply chain running as soon as possible,” Walsh said.
The industry group also wants the governor to reopen all forms of manufacturing at once, not just the automotive sector, Walsh said.
“If you’re making a widget for the RV industry versus a widget for an ambulance, truly what is the difference as long as you’re operating safely to move forward?” Walsh asked.