The UAW plant chairman at Ford Motor Co.'s Louisville Assembly Plant is calling on the automaker to temporarily shutter the facility for two weeks before the novel coronavirus spreads to factory workers there.
"As chairman and the leader of our membership here at LAP, I do not want to wait to see if we have a case here at the plant before we react," Herb Hibbs, the plant chairman, wrote in a letter to members obtained by Automotive News. "I would like to see Ford Motor Company be proactive instead of reactive."
The Louisville plant employs about 4,100 workers who build the Ford Escape and Lincoln Corsair. A Ford spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ford late last week instructed most of its white-collar global work force to work from home until further notice beginning Monday. Mark Truby, Ford's chief communications officer, said last week that keeping the plants moving was one of the company's top goals after the safety and well-being of its employees.
Blue-collar workers, however, have expressed concern that more action was not being taken in Ford's manufacturing facilities.
"If we have an employee that is infected with the COVID-19 virus, the ramifications are going to be far worse than quarantining now," Hibbs said in the letter. "Employees walk through the gates with other employees coming to work and leaving. Employees' work stations are less than 20 feet apart and some are less than 3 feet. Almost all employees touch the same SUV as it goes down the line in some sort of fashion. We all take breaks together at the same time, and same places. We walk around the facility talking, touching and possibly spreading the virus if we are truly infected."
On Monday, Allen Hughes, the UAW building chairman at Ford’s nearby Kentucky Truck Plant, told members he’s been in discussion with the automaker about what a potential shutdown at the factory may entail, although he noted that as of today, no workers have been diagnosed with the virus.
In a letter to members he posted on Twitter, he said there’s a “critical manpower plan” that would call for roughly 20 trades workers and 4 paint mixers to remain on site in case of a lockdown to operate equipment that can’t be shutdown, like waste water treatment.
In addition, Hughes said he’s lobbying for relief for employees who miss work due to sickness or childcare issues.
As of Monday, Hughes said the plant, which employs roughly 9,000, has not yet received a shipment of hand sanitizers or wipes. A Ford spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when all the plants are excepted to have those products.
Ford said Sunday that it would shut its Spain plant in the eastern region of Valencia for one week starting Monday after three employees tested positive for coronavirus. To date, six Ford workers are known to have contracted the virus, including two in China and one in Germany.
A Ford spokesman said Sunday there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in any of the company's U.S. facilities.
A worker at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' transmission plant in Kokomo, Ind., tested positive for the coronavirus last week. The employee is receiving medical care, FCA said, and those who worked near him have been put in home quarantine. The plant has continued operating.
In Canada, the FCA minivan plant in Windsor, Ont., was shut down for about 24 hours last week when the local Unifor union refused to work because one of its members self quarantined. Nobody at the plant has tested positive for the virus.