UAW, Detroit Three launch COVID-19 task force

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — The United Auto Workers and Detroit's three automakers said Sunday they are forming a COVID-19/Coronavirus Task Force to implement enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse employees at all three companies.

Led by UAW President Rory Gamble, the move by the union, General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV comes as government entities and private businesses across the nation institute precautions to prevent further spread of the virus. 

In the United States, there's a total of 1,629 cases and 41 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In bid to stabilize the economy, the Federal Reserve on Sunday slashed interest rates to zero percent.

The state of Michigan recorded 45 cases as of late Sunday. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday issued an executive order that temporarily prohibits large public assemblies of more than 250 people. Bars, restaurants and other establishments could face legal consequences if they violate the order. 

Meanwhile, Michigan's auto assembly plants are still producing vehicles.

“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.”

All three companies and the UAW are working to prevent the spread of the virus including enhanced visitor screening, increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points and implementing safety protocols for people with potential exposure, as well as those who exhibit flu-like symptoms.

Automakers already have taken steps to ensure their manufacturing facilities are clean and clear of the virus. GM, for example, is making production adjustments to clean its facilities. The Detroit automaker canceled the third shift Saturday to clean its profit-rich truck plant, Flint Assembly. 

Ford is shutting down its Spanish plant in the eastern region of Valencia for one week starting on Monday after three employees tested positive for coronavirus, according to Reuters. And Volkswagen AG is closing its Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant for a day on Monday for a deep cleaning of the plant, according to WRCB in Chattanooga.

FCA's Kokomo Transmission Plant in Indiana continued to operate as normal last week after one of their salaried employees contracted the virus. FCA cleaned the employee's area and the employee, as well as those who had direct contact with that person, are now in quarantine. 

An FCA employee at its Windsor Assembly Plant was placed in self-quarantine after potentially coming in contact with the virus, but there were no confirmed cases of the virus in the plant, the automaker said. Out of concern for their health and safety, workers there walked off the job Thursday afternoon. Production there restarted at 3 p.m. Friday after Dave Cassidy, president of Local 444 for the Unifor Canadian labor union, urged members to stand down. 

In a joint statement for the new task force, the CEOs of GM, Ford and FCA 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 workforces safe and healthy.”

The joint task force will focus on reviewing vehicle production plans, additional social distancing, break and cleaning schedules, health and safety education, health screening and food service and any other areas that have the potential to improve protections for employees. 

Gamble, GM CEO Mary Barra, Ford CEO Jim Hackett, Executive Chairman Bill Ford and FCA CEO Michael Manley will lead the task force. They will be supported by Terry Dittes, UAW vice president and head of its GM Department; Gerald Kariem, UAW vice president and head of its Ford Department; Cindy Estrada, UAW vice president and head of its FCA Department; and the medical staffs as well as the manufacturing and labor leadership teams at all three companies.