The United Auto Workers said it will continue to press Detroit’s automakers about safety measures even as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced plans to resume production the week starting May 18.
FCA CEO Mike Manley made the announcement Tuesday during the company’s quarterly conference call with financial analysts. FCA’s production plants in North America have been closed since March 18 shortly after the lethal COVID-19 virus took hold in the U.S.
“As for the start date, the companies contractually make that decision and we all knew this day would come. Our UAW focus and role is and will continue to be, on health and safety protocols to protect our members,” UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement issued after the FCA call.
“The UAW has and continues to have dialogue with all of our employers and employment sectors about the safety and security surrounding reopening worksites,” Gamble said.
Gamble said in the case of Detroit’s carmakers a joint union-management task force had an ongoing dialogue and the union has supported a number of measures put in place by FCA, GM and Ford in order to meet Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization guidelines to protect the health and safety workers in plants.
Ford recently announced it planned to restart its North American operations on May 18. GM hasn’t released a date yet, but it seems likely that announcement will come when it reports earnings this week.
“Our volunteer members and the companies have done great work to reconfigure plants to achieve this safety goal,” Gamble said.
Nonetheless, the union is concerned the virus could spread quickly in plants where workers are close to one another. The problem is particularly acute on final assembly lines, which in many plants has employees working side by side or across from one another, making social distancing difficult.
The automakers have said they expect to equip employees with masks, face shields and hand sanitizer and will place plastic shields between many work stations to prevent the virus from spreading. Employees feeling ill will be tested.
In addition, the companies have agreed to loosen absenteeism policies, making it easier for employees to stay home if they are not feeling well.
However, union officials have warned the companies any outbreak of the virus in plant could undermine employee confidence in the entire system of safeguards. The danger is particularly high in plants in Michigan, which is the center of the U.S. auto industry and also has among the highest death rates in the nation.
“We continue to advocate for as much testing as possible at the current time and eventually full testing when available,” Gamble said.
“My own family will be among those reporting and my responsibility to our UAW members and my family will be consistent. We must implement and follow these guidelines and self-reporting procedures we have worked out. And the UAW will fulfill its role to continue to actively monitor and aggressively respond regarding all issues impacting the health and safety of UAW members in whatever manner may be necessary as we return to the worksite,” he said.