Cleveland, Ohio – Automotive production has resumed in much of the country, but the COVID-19 pandemic is making it tough to stay open. Ford last week had to temporarily cut shifts short in Chicago, Illinois and Dearborn, Michigan after workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus. And on Tuesday, the company had to pause production on the Transit van line in Kansas City as another worker tested positive.
”The safety of our workforce is our top priority. Working closely with the UAW and external experts in infectious disease and epidemiology, we have developed safety standards to protect our workforce,” Ford officials said. “In this instance, our protocol calls for us to deep clean and disinfect the employees’ work area, equipment, team area, and the path that the employee took while at the plant today. We are temporarily pausing production at Kansas City Assembly Plant – on the Transit side – until the deep cleaning is completed. We are notifying people known to have been in close contact with the infected individual and asking them to self-quarantine for 14 days.”
Automakers, working with the United Auto Workers, crafted careful plans to resume production in crowded plants, despite the rapid spread of the disease. Workers must wear masks inside the plants, specialized cameras check workers’ temperatures, and the company staggered shift start times to limit the number of people entering and exiting at any given time.
Company officials have said those protocols have helped them identify cases and limit the length of plant closures (the automaker has partnered with several hospitals to rapidly test people who may have COVID-19), but getting back to full production will be difficult if workers continue testing positive.
General Motors hasn’t reported as many positive test cases, but that company is struggling to resume full production as suppliers in Mexico are still under shutdown orders and can’t produce components needed for pickups.
Following last year’s strike by the UAW, GM pickup supplies were low heading into the pandemic. And while sales of most vehicles were almost non-existent in late March and all of April, demand for pickups has been stronger than for other vehicles. GM had hoped to get back to multiple shifts per day at several plants as soon as production resumes, but parts shortages have kept the plant to one shift.
UAW leaders told the Detroit News that they hope to clear the issues soon, but with Mexican automotive production only beginning to resume, it could take several more days for enough parts to arrive.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 20 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.