DETROIT — The UAW and Detroit 3 on Sunday said they have formed a joint task force to increase safety and health protections for factory employees and help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The task force will be made of all three automaker CEOs, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, UAW President Rory Gamble and all three UAW vice presidents, as well as medical staffs and the manufacturing and labor leadership teams at all three companies. The task force will work to coordinate enhanced visitor screening, increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points and safety protocols for people with potential exposure, as well as for those who exhibit flu-like symptoms, at manufacturing facilities across the country.
"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," Gamble said in a statement. "We are focused on doing the right thing for our people, their families, our communities and the country. All options related to protecting against exposure to the virus are on the table."
In a joint statement, the CEOs of General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said: "This is a fluid and unprecedented situation, and the task force will move quickly to build on the wide-ranging preventive measures we have put in place. We are all coming together to help keep our work forces safe and healthy."
The task force will focus on vehicle production plans, additional social distancing, break and cleaning schedules, health and safety education, health screening, food service and any other areas that have the potential to improve protections for employees, the union said.
The idea and creation of the task force happened rapidly, largely over the past 24 hours through a series of calls among the heads of the union and automakers, according to a person familiar with the talks.
Earlier in the day, Bill Ford spoke at length with Gamble, and had a separate call with GM's Barra, this person said.
Those calls led to a joint discussion later in the day between the heads of the Detroit 3 and the UAW and the formation of the task force.
Pressure has been building on the automakers to ensure the safety of their factory workers, although the companies remained focused on keeping their factories up and running as long as possible.
Some within the union have called for a two-week shutdown as a precautionary measure, but the task force for now has decided on other preventative measures to slow the spread of the virus, the person familiar with the matter said. They’re working through how to enforce social distancing rules in the factories, including at work stations and during shift changes, when masses of employees enter and exit at roughly the same time in close proximity.
Ford, for example, has decided that if a worker in a plant tests positive for the virus, the plant will shut down for at least 24 hours, this person said.
The automakers have begun modeling for what the financial toll of a weeks-long nationwide plant shutdown would look like, according to the person, and they continue to worry about whether demand for new vehicles will soon fall.
The task force plans to remain in near-constant communication, with members joining conference calls to make decisions as they arise.
Detroit 3 WFH
All three automakers have told most of their salaried employees to work from home beginning this week, but some hourly workers have expressed concern that more is not being done in the plants.
Earlier, the UAW chairman at Ford's Louisville Assembly Plant earlier called on the automaker to temporarily stop production for two weeks before any workers there contract the disease.
In Canada, the FCA minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario, 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.
A worker at FCA's 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.
Ford on Sunday reiterated that none of its U.S. workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Six Ford workers other countries have contracted the virus: three in Spain, two in China and one in Germany.