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Gm Headquarters Detroit Exteroir Bill Pugliano Stringer Getty

Detroit Automakers Tell Employees: Keep Working, From Home If You Can

March 13, 2020
GM, Ford, and Fiat-Chrysler have directed office workers to stay home while factories remain open.

All three major Detroit carmakers issued a similar set of directions for their workers on Friday, March 13: Keep working, but do it at home if possible.

The first to issue the directive was Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles. On March 12, FCA reported a worker at their Kokomo, Indiana plant had tested positive for COVID-19, the novel coronavirus recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Later that day, a spokesperson for FCA told Bloomberg News that the Italian-American carmaker had issued directions to all office employees to quarantine themselves and work remotely.

The next day, both GM and Ford put out statements with similar directions: employees who can keep working from home should do so, effective Monday, March 16. CEOs Mary Barra of GM and Jim Hackett of Ford wrote memos to their employees, directing them to take relevant equipment home and stay in touch with their supervisors.

Although the carmakers’ office buildings will go dark next week, none of the companies have plans for their U.S. factories to follow. Instead, production will continue with adjusted employee spacing and break times. In a letter to employees, Fiat-Chrysler CEO Mike Manley wrote, “We are now managing the company to ensure business continuity, in particular focusing on how we keep production lines running and vehicle programs on track.”

Fiat-Chrysler has so far experienced a worse impact from the virus than its peers. FCA has temporarily closed its production plants in northern Italy, where more than 1,000 people have died of the virus. According to Bloomberg News, workers at a Fiat minivan assembly plant in Ontario refused to continue working in the middle of the day March 12.

Neither Ford nor GM have reported any infected employees at press time. A statement from Ford said the Dearborn, Michigan-based company is “continuing to act in real time to keep our people safe and help limit the spread of the virus.” Barra wrote in her letter to employees that GM is adjusting non-office work environment schedules “to allow for additional cleaning.”

On March 12, the UAW issued a statement on the FCA’s initial report on the sickened Kokomo assembly worker, who was a member of the auto union. Following GM and Ford’s announcements the day after, union President Rory Gamble wrote a letter to members in which he assured them the UAW does “not take this matter lightly.” Gamble wrote that the union is monitoring the situation and “working with companies” to enforce quarantine protocols on vendors arriving in the United States from abroad.

In Barra’s letter to GM employees, she emphasized the importance of their work, even during the viral crisis: “Given the current drop in use of public transportation and extensive flight cancellations,” she wrote, “our customers are looking to us more than ever to ensure they have the vehicles, parts and services they need.” 

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