General Motors
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UAW to Big Three: Shut Down Plants for Two Weeks to Ensure Safety

March 17, 2020
The UAW says it asked Ford, GM and FCA for precautions in a meeting on Sunday, and gave them 48 hours to make a decision.

Update 3/17/20, 9:52 p.m.: Bloomberg News is reporting that the three automakers have agreed to "partially shut down their US plants on a rotating basis" as part of their coronavirus containment efforts.

United Autoworkers President Rory Gamble said on Tuesday that at a meeting with automakers on  Sunday, the union asked Ford, General Motors and Fiat-Chrysler to implement a two-week shutdown as a precaution around the coronavirus. The auto companies asked for a 48-hour window to make a decision, and that window is up Tuesday at 6 p.m.

General Motors spokesman James Cain confirmed the 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting "to discuss status" and added that: "We do believe the plants can be operated safely."

Cain shared "a list of actions we have to keep our team safe," including forming a joint UAW-Ford-GM-FCA task force on coronavirus, international and domestic travel restrictions, using technology to reduce or eliminate in-person meetings  and encouraging employees who can to work from home, increasing cleaning frequency in plants, implementing safety protocols for people with symptoms who may have been exposed to the virus, and eliminating shared serving areas like salad bars in employee cafeterias.

Jodi Tinson, spokeswoman for FCA, said in an email that "FCA 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. " 

Here is the full letter to UAW employees from Gamble, posted today on the UAW website:

I’m going to get right to the point. I want you to know exactly where we are with our discussions with the Big 3 leadership and protecting our members and their facilities during this international crisis.

I announced this past Sunday that the International UAW had formed a COVID-19/Coronavirus task force with GM, Ford and FCA to implement enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse employees at all three companies.

I want to be very transparent about what happened during our conversation Sunday with the Big 3. The UAW leadership, based on the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations on how to protect ourselves and our communities, requested a two-week shutdown of operations to safeguard our members, our families and our communities. Your UAW leadership feels very strongly, and argued very strongly, that this is the most responsible course of action.

The companies, however, were not willing to implement this request. They asked for 48 hours to put together plans to safeguard workers in their facilities. (Ford Motor Company has indicated this week that they are willing to rotate down shifts and are planning to shut down all European operations next week.)

The 48-hour window is up this afternoon. 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.

I want to be very clear here: If the UAW leadership on the task force, myself and Vice Presidents Cindy Estrada, Terry Dittes and Gerald Kariem, are not satisfied that our members will be protected, we will take this conversation to the next level.

These companies will be put on notice that the UAW will use any and all measures to protect our brothers and sisters who are working in their facilities. And make no mistake, we have powerful allies who have stepped up to help us. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, despite what you might have heard in some recent erroneous reports, was instrumental in assisting us in bringing the Big 3 to the table, as was U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell.

I know these are very difficult days for all of us. Please know that my #1 priority, and the #1 priority of the entire UAW leadership, is the safety and well-being of our UAW family and our communities.

I will be sending another update very soon on what we see from the Big 3 today.

I’d like to ask that we all remember that we are all in this together.

IndustryWeek has reached out to Ford and FCA as well and will update this story if we hear from them.

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

Focus: IndustryWeek Contributors, Leadership, Automotive
Email: [email protected]
Call: (954) 361-1535
Twitter: @LauraPutre


Senior Editor Laura Putre manages IW contributors and covers leadership as it applies to executive best practices, corporate culture, corporate responsibility, growth strategies, managing and training talent, and strategic planning.

A former newspaper journalist, Laura has written for Slate, The Root, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian and many other publications.

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