Absenteeism due to virus fears prompts GM to cut 3rd shift at Missouri plant

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — General Motors Co. will cut its third shift at its mid-size truck assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, after experiencing high absenteeism caused by concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"We believe in the short term a two-shift operating plan will allow us to operate as efficiently as possible and accommodate team members who are not reporting to work due to concerns about COVID-19 in the local community," GM spokesman David Barnas said on Saturday. 

On Friday the state of Missouri reported its third-largest daily increase in new cases since the pandemic’s start, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. On Saturday, GM sent Wentzville workers an "urgent" notification that it would move to a two-shift operation July 20. 

"We will begin canvassing 3rd shift employees to identify their desire to either participate in a temporary layoff or express their interest to be considered for available work opportunities," the Saturday alert obtained by The Detroit News said.

Wentzville is a suburb of St. Louis. On Friday, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported the rolling seven-day average of hospital admissions in the St. Louis Metro area for both suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 24 on Friday, up from 23 on Thursday, according to the Dispatch report. That number is the highest it’s been since late May.

GM doesn't know exactly how many people will be affected by shift cut, but Barnas said each shift has about 1,250 employees and the automaker will work to get back to three shifts at the truck plant as quickly as possible. The Detroit Free Press first reported the layoffs. 

"People on our team should not be concerned about coming to work. GM Wentzville is following multi-layered safety protocols that are working very well to keep people safe by reducing the possibility that COVID-19 can enter the plant and preventing any spread within the plant," Barnas said.

Wentzville Assembly builds the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size trucks and Chevy Express and GMC Savana full-size vans. GM reopened its assembly plants starting the week of May 18 after an eight-week pandemic-induced shutdown. The truck plants, Wentzville, Flint Assembly, where heavy-duty trucks are built, and the Fort Wayne, Indiana plant, where light-duty trucks are built, increased to three shifts at the beginning of June. GM's Flint and Fort Wayne plants are still operating on three shifts with additional Saturday shifts scheduled to increase supply of its profit-rich trucks. 

GM's decision to cut the third shift at Wentzville comes as the Detroit automaker is battling low inventory levels brought on by the pandemic shutdown, especially in the truck department. The latest Cox Automotive data shows Chevrolet's supply is right below 70 days and GMC is slightly above 50. Jeep is above 70 and Ram is above 80. The national average is 70 days. Ford has the highest with levels closer to 90. 

"We've got jobs for three shifts at Wentzville because of strong dealer and customer demand for mid-size trucks and vans," Barnas said. "It will take us longer to rebuild inventory than it would if we were operating at a stable three full shifts of production."

Brian Rothenberg, UAW international spokesman in a statement, “While we can’t comment right now we can say we are monitoring the situation.” 

A UAW Local 2250 official declined to comment Saturday until learning more information on the shift reduction. Another could not immediately be reached for comment.

GM recently cut the third shift at its Spring Hill, Tennessee plant because of lack of demand for the product built there. The plant builds the Cadillac XT5, XT6 and GMC Acadia.


Twitter: @bykaleahall