General Motors is taking some tentative steps to reopen its North American plants, recalling the skilled trades and management employees they need to return to work next week to help prepare to restart production.
In a message to affected UAW union members, the company said it “is actively preparing plant to safety restart our operations.”
The preparations include changing the layout in plants to accommodate greater social distancing, which is considered necessary to reopen plants safely during the pandemic. However, the UAW said Thursday it is premature to talk about reopening auto plants in the U.S.
“At this point in time, the UAW does not believe the scientific data is conclusive that it is safe to have our members back in the workplace,” said UAW President Rory Gamble. “We have not done enough testing to really understand the threat our members face.”
The UAW represents more than 130,000 workers employed by GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. Despite the union’s concerns, the company is using what it’s learned from the plants, which are staffed with UAW workers, churning out ventilators and personal protection equipment for first responders and other medical personnel.
The auto industry is a critical part of the U.S. economy, which is struggling under the weight of epidemic. Gamble said the union wants to make sure the scientific data is supportive and all possible health protocols and enhanced protections are in place before UAW members walk into the workplace.
General Motors has not yet said when it plans to re-open, while Ford and FCA said have targeted May 4 as their start date.
Gamble also said he supports Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s action to extend the Stay at Home order from April 30 to May 15. The move comes as President Donald Trump has laid out a three-stage plan to restart businesses and other services and other areas.
“We strongly suggest to our companies in all sectors that an early May date is too soon and too risky to our members, their families and their communities,” said Gamble in support of the Michigan governor who has been targeted by protests about her stay-at-home order.
“We are happy with the auto companies’ response and cooperation on working through the health and safety protocols we will need in the workplace when it is appropriate to restart,” he added.