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Ford to keep office workers at home through at least next June

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co.'s tens of thousand of white-collar workers in North America will continue working from home through at least next June.

The announcement Thursday is an extension of a remote-work policy the Dearborn automaker put in place near the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March. It follows General Motors Co.'s decision in early September to extend its work-from-home policy for most office workers until the end of June.

Ford Motor Company Henry Ford II World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan on September 2, 2020.

Ford's North American office workers were notified of the extension in a meeting Thursday with Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford's Americas and international markets group, a company spokesperson told The Detroit News.

The Blue Oval has about 32,000 employees in North America who continue to work remotely.

GM sent out a memo to most of its office workers Sept. 4.

"Our current outlook is to continue operating as we are today until June 30, 2021," said the communication obtained at the time by The News. "If new information warrants us changing our outlook and we have the opportunity to return to the workplace sooner, we will communicate quickly."

Ford had most recently told salaried employees they wouldn't be expected back at offices until at least January. The automaker had surveyed its virtual workforce and found that nearly 75% of employees preferred to keep working from home through year's end. Ford said at the time that it would re-evaluate closer to the end of the year.

Kumar Galhotra speaks during the reveal of the 2020 Ford Escape, at Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, March 28, 2019.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV hasn't given specific dates on its remote work plans.

"In light of ongoing developments related to COVID-19, FCA has taken decisive steps to keep employees safe, keep our business running and actively monitor and adjust to the situation at all of our facilities," the automaker has stated. 

"To support this, our team that has the ability to work remotely will continue to do so, until they hear directly from their manager. All employees who must be physically present to perform their jobs are continuing to report to their work sites where we have implemented robust multi-layered processes to ensure their health and safety. The FCA team has adjusted well to remote work and we continue to actively monitor the situation related to work arrangements in the long term." 

For eight weeks starting in mid-March, all three Detroit automakers halted auto production, an unprecedented move aimed at keeping plant workers safe from the virus. Auto production resumed in May, under health and safety guidelines the automakers developed in partnership with the United Auto Workers union.

The decisions by some of Metro Detroit's largest employers to keep office workers at home means that, by the time current policies are set to expire, employees will have been out of offices for about 15 months. 

Mortgage lending giant Rocket Companies said last month that nearly its entire 20,000-member workforce — the majority of whom are normally based in downtown Detroit — will continue working remotely through at least January.

Other major corporations across the country have also implemented long-term remote work plans. 

Google LLC and Facebook Inc. both plan to keep employees at home through July. Amazon.com has told its office workers it will be at least January before they return.

The decisions come as cases of COVID-19 continue to rage across the U.S., and as public-health experts sound the alarm about a possible surge in cases during the fall and winter, amid flu season and as many Americans retreat indoors due to colder weather. 

To date, the U.S. has recorded more than 7.5 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 210,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In Michigan, the known caseload stood at 130,842 as of Wednesday. Deaths tied to COVID-19 reached 6,847, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Counting probable cases and deaths, those numbers rise to 143,878 and 7,161, respectively.

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JGrzelewski