United Auto Workers call on GM, Ford, FCA to shut down US factories

United Auto Workers called on the Big Three automakers — GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — to shut down factories in the U.S. for two weeks over concerns about the spread of COVID-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus.

The call to action came after GM confirmed in a statement that an employee who works at the Cole Engineering Center in Warren has tested positive for the virus.

“We have been in contact with the family and put our emergency response plan into action, building on the preventive measures we have already taken, which include directing employees at the Cole Technical Center and other sites to work remotely if possible,” GM said in a statement.  

GM’s medical team has contacted individuals who may have had direct contact at work with the affected employee. They will be directed to self-quarantine for 14 days and the GM medical team will help them coordinate care if they develop symptoms, the company said, adding that it has been in contact with public health officials.

GM said it has added more screening of all visitors to facilities, asking employees and contract workers who can to work from home, and increasing the frequency of cleaning touch points like door handles, handrails and tables.

 The UAW also issued a statement Tuesday confirming the positive test of COVID-19.

“Our thoughts are with our member and their family, coworkers and friends at GM’s Warren Technical Center, who rightfully are worried about their loved one’s health and their exposure to Coronavirus,” UAW vice president Terry Dittes said in a written statement. “It is important that our members are quarantined in accordance with U.S. Government Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The UAW is working with GM to inform any members who should be in quarantine.”

The UAW’s call for a shutdown comes just two days since the auto workers union formed a task force with GM, Ford and FCA that is aimed at protecting workers and limiting the spread of COVID-19. The task force is made up of UAW President Rory Gamble, along with leaders from the three automakers, a group that includes GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett and FCA CEO Michael Manley.

The task force was formed to coordinate efforts to prevent the spread of the disease and will take a wide range of actions that include enhanced visitor screening and increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points. Safety protocols for people with potential exposure, as well as those who exhibit flu-like symptoms, will also be developed.

Gamble said Tuesday that UAW leadership requested Sunday during the first task force meeting with GM, Ford and FCA a two-week shutdown of operations. The companies, however, were not willing to implement this request, Gamble wrote, adding that they asked for 48 hours to put together a plan to safeguard workers.

“The 48-hour window is up this afternoon,” Gamble wrote. “We will be evaluating what the companies submit today and there will be a meeting this evening at 6 p.m., where the Task Force will review plans for the safety and health of all members, their families and our communities.”

FCA said in a statement that it has already implemented extensive protocols to ensure the health and welfare of our workforce. We are continuing to carefully monitor the situation and are making improvements as needed. As a member of the joint UAW-GM-Ford-FCA COVID-19 Coronavirus Task Force, we appreciate the opportunity to share best practices across the industry.

Automakers including Volkswagen, Daimler and Ford have suspended operations in factories throughout Europe as COVID-19 continues to spread. Ford said Tuesday it will temporarily shut down vehicle and engine production at its factories in Europe, which includes facilities in Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany, and Craiova, Romania. Production will stop on Thursday. Ford’s assembly and engine facility in Valencia, Spain has been closed since Monday, after three workers were confirmed with the coronavirus over the past weekend.

Daimler Group announced Tuesday it will suspend the majority of its production in Europe, as well as work in selected administrative departments, for an initial period of two weeks.

Meanwhile, Tesla’s factory in Fremont, Calif. remains open even as most San Francisco Bay Area residents are under a shelter-in-place order by local officials. The order includes the closure of all non-essential businesses. The Los Angeles Times, which was the first to report the status of the Tesla factory, was told by an Alameda spokesperson that it was considered exempted by the order and considered an essential business. The spokesperson couldn’t explain why it was deemed essential, a category that includes hospitals, grocery stores and pharmacies.