Workers at Fiat Chrysler plants in Sterling Heights, Kokomo die of COVID-19

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV may extend downtime at its plants, according to the United Auto Workers, after two employees who tested positive for COVID-19 died.

One worked in Sterling Heights and the other in Kokomo, Indiana, UAW President Rory Gamble said Tueday in a letter to members. The company previously had confirmed positive cases at Sterling Heights Assembly and Kokomo Transmission.

Ford is extending its temporary production suspension in North America past Monday and does not have a restart date.

"This is a terrible tragedy for our entire UAW family," Gamble wrote.

Fiat Chrysler declined to comment "out of respect for the privacy of the families and those impacted by this situation."

Gamble also wrote, "FCA has told us that they intend to comply with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order and have no plans to reopen on March 30."

Fiat Chrysler did not have immediate comment on that statement. It previously had said its plants would be down through the end of the month.

Ford Motor Co., meanwhile, is extending temporary production suspensions in North America and does not plan on restarting production Monday, the automaker said.

Gamble said the UAW is demanding that General Motors Co. "put our members' safety first and adhere to government and health officials' recommendations to stay-at-home." GM said Tuesday that its suspension will last until at least March 30 and it will evaluate week-to-week after that.

The updates come after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined several other states in implementing a stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic. The order, which runs through at least April 13, draws from federal guidelines, which exempt critical manufacturing for transportation, but do not specifically mention auto manufacturing.

"Ford’s top priority is the health and safety of our employees, dealers, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders," Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford North America, said in a statement Tuesday. "In light of various governments’ orders to stay and work from home, Ford is not planning to restart our plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico on Monday, March 30 as originally hoped."

The Blue Oval is assessing its options and working with union leaders with the UAW and Unifor, a Canadian labor organization, on timing for when to resume production. The company says it will provide additional updates as details are confirmed, though no new restart date was provided. It previously said production would ramp up again starting March 30.

"We commend Ford for this action," UAW President Rory Gamble said in the letter.

Fiat Chrysler on Sunday said it was directing salaried UAW members at its Auburn Hills technology center to stay home. That came after an employee, who was not a UAW member, died because of COVID-19, The Detroit News previously reported.

GM on Tuesday said it would borrow $16 billion from revolving credit facilities to maintain financial flexibility. Ford last week said it was borrowing more than $15 billion of total unused funds against two lines of credit. But Fitch Ratings on Monday still downgraded Ford to one notch above non-investment grade because of the virus outbreak over concerns plant shutdowns could last for several weeks.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble

Staff Writer Kalea Hall contributed.