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FCA warns workers won’t be paid if they halt assembly lines

Gabrielle Coppola
Bloomberg

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV issued a stern warning to employees after workers at two of its U.S. plants stopped production last week over concern management wasn’t properly handling coronavirus risks.

“Unauthorized work stoppages in our facilities create both disruption, and, potentially, safety concerns, and therefore cannot be tolerated,” Mike Resha, Fiat Chrysler’s head of North American manufacturing, wrote in a June 28 letter. Employees found to have instigated unapproved shutdowns will face disciplinary action, and stoppages “will result in zero pay,” he wrote.

Fiat Chrysler’s threat following production pauses at key Jeep and Ram pickup factories shows tensions are still simmering at Detroit automakers, six weeks after they called workers back to the assembly line. While the companies are eager to restore pre-lockdown production to restock dealerships seeing recovering demand, employees are concerned about exposing themselves to Covid-19 in workplaces where social distancing can be difficult.

A representative for Fiat Chrysler declined to comment on the letter. The company agreed to tighten health screening procedures for workers entering plants and dispatch cleaners to work areas within 15 minutes of being notified, Resha wrote. He also warned any employee who is untruthful in health-screening questionnaires that staff are required to fill out before entering facilities will be fired.

Production Pauses

Last week, employees at Fiat Chrysler’s Jefferson North plant in Detroit briefly refused to work because they believed one of their co-workers had the virus. The worker later tested negative. On June 27, staff at Fiat Chrysler’s truck plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, halted production out of concern their stations had not been properly sanitized after a worker was sent home to be tested.

The United Auto Workers is pushing for companies to enhance health and safety protocols and address concerns of its members, Brian Rothenberg, a spokesman for the union, said after last week’s incidents.

Last month, workers at Ford Motor Co. factories in Michigan and Missouri questioned the automaker’s safety protocols after multiple workers tested positive for Covid-19. The UAW local at General Motors Co.’s SUV plant in Arlington, Texas, also pushed for the automaker to temporarily close the facility, citing the spike in Covid-19 cases in the area.

Ford has said it has stuck to health and safety measures detailed in a return-to-work playbook the company crafted along with the UAW. GM said Tuesday it hadn’t made any changes to production schedules at Arlington because it has protocols in place to protect workers.