Ford, UAW detail return-to-work plans
Workers at Ford's Van Dyke Transmission Plant near Detroit make face masks for medical workers and, eventually, for Ford's workforce.
Ford Motor Co.

Ford, UAW detail return-to-work plans

No date set, but union and automaker are working on rules to keep workers safe.

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Cleveland, Ohio – Anyone entering a Ford Motor Co. facility must wear a mask, and autoworkers returning to factories will be issued such masks when the company restarts production, the automaker and United Auto Workers (UAW) said in a letter to employees Thursday.

The company will also use scanners to check employees’ temperatures and denying entry to facilities to anyone with a fever.

“A global challenge of this magnitude requires each of us to do our part to help combat COVID-19,” Ford and UAW officials said in the letter. “It is a job we all must accept at work, at home, and in our communities.”

Much of the letter focused on encouraging basic pandemic hygiene – maintaining more distance between people, frequent hand washing, coughing into an elbow instead of a hand. It did not offer a firm return-to-work date.

Ford plants have been closed since March 19. Initially, the UAW sought a two-week shutdown to develop safe work rules, but those closures have dragged on as Southeast Michigan has been particularly badly hit with COVID-19.

Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are all negotiating with the UAW to develop best practices and restart shuttered plants, but so far, those efforts have not resulting in new production. The only autoworkers still on the line are volunteers working on ventilators, face shields, face masks, respirators, hospital gowns, and other personal protective equipment.

To learn more about Ford's efforts to make ventilators, watch a recording of a webinar detailing how the automaker worked with General Electric and a small, Florida-based medical supplier.

Last week, Ford officials announced that the company’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant near Detroit had begun making facemasks to supply hospitals and for its own use. With each employee required to wear a mask until “COVID-19 is no longer a critical risk to our employees,” the company will need thousands of the items every day.

UAW officials have reported progress in their negotiations, but there is still work to do to ensure safety. Portions of auto assembly plants, such as trim installation, tend to be crowded, making social distancing difficult.

In their letter, UAW and Ford officials said they’re working on redesigning some work stations to allow more space between workers. And, they asked for employees to submit suggestions with team leaders to find more ways to space out work.

However, some processes require multiple sets of hands or people working simultaneously on opposite sides of bulky components.

“When social distancing is not feasible, a face shield may be the best alternative,” the officials said.

Company officials also described how Ford is using the downtime to thoroughly clean its plants and spelled out new hygiene steps once production restarts such as frequent cleaning of break rooms, restrooms, and other common areas and efforts to thoroughly clean all tools and equipment between shifts.

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.

rschoenberger@gie.net