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Opinion: Unions protect members, communities

Rory Gamble

Last week, as all of you know FCA, Ford and GM announced their intention to cease production at plants across North America through the end of March in order to ensure the health and safety of employees during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

The UAW fully supports this action.

But I do want to take some time to recognize the many heroes among us, many UAW members, who soldier on despite the dangers because of the essential role we all play.

UAW nurses, social workers, government workers, public safety officers and our factory workers keep our economy afloat. These are American heroes.

Our nation is changing daily in response to the virus. As representatives of workers in the Big Three’s auto manufacturing and warehouse facilities, we have closely followed information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to monitor and assess the situation as it affects our member brothers and sisters and community as a whole.

Last week, FCA, Ford and GM announced their intention to cease production at plants across North America through the end of March in order to ensure the health and safety of employees during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

At the beginning of this international crisis in February, the UAW formed a coronavirus task force with GM, Ford and FCA to implement enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse employees at all three companies. In our joint communications with the Big Three, the UAW strongly encouraged these companies to use any and all measures to protect our brothers and sisters who are working in their facilities. We thank our partners in this cause who stepped up to help us deliver the message loud and clear: We will protect our membership — in auto and in all of our sectors of work.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was instrumental in assisting us in bringing the Big Three to the table, as was U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell. And we are very pleased with the Big Three companies’ decision to enact this two-week shutdown of operations.

During the shutdown, all three companies will thoroughly clean facilities to boost containment efforts for the virus. Best practices will be reviewed to prepare for when the plants reopen. New health and safety plans will be implemented when production resumes. 

The UAW is committed to doing its part as well. Our Health and Safety Department has been tracking best practices since February. We will continue to work closely with FCA, GM and Ford to further enhance COVID-19 protections in manufacturing and at the warehouse.

At the local, regional and international level, we are engaging membership to address concerns and questions.

Protecting our members — whether it is during the potential spread of COVID 19 or the day-to-day operations at a plant — is the No. 1 goal for us.

These are very difficult days for all of us. But the No. 1 priority of the entire UAW leadership is the safety and well-being of our UAW family and our communities.

We are all in this together. We are committed to work together to stamp out COVID-19: for our members, our community, our country, our world.

Rory Gamble is president of the UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.