Cleveland, Ohio – While automotive executives and the United Auto Workers (UAW) continue to meet to discuss how to safely reopen auto plants during the COVID-19 pandemic, the union is rejecting calls to have workers back on the line by early May as some companies had hoped.
In a letter to union members at Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), UAW President Rory Gamble said the issue of when to reopen boils down to one question – is it safe to have workers side-by-side on assembly lines?
“It’s the same question that I asked when we demanded that the Big 3 and others close production last month. Will our members be safe? If the answer is no, then our course is clear,” Gamble said. “I feel the scientific data is not conclusive at this point and it is too risky for our members, their families and our communities to support a quick return to work in early May.”
The UAW position will effectively keep plants closed until labor leaders feel protective steps are in place. The union and Ford released some specifics last week such as plans for all workers to wear facemasks and have their temperatures checked when they arrive for work each day.
Because the pandemic social distancing guidelines are impacting auto sales as much as production, dealer lots haven’t emptied yet, and carmakers are just as in the dark as other retailers on when people will feel comfortable making big purchases.
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.
Honda and Nissan, companies with work forces not represented by the UAW, have also delayed reopenings. Both automakers have said the need to keep workers safe is the primary reason for the extended closures, but the lack of retail automotive demand is a factor as well. Nissan does not plan to open plants until mid-May, and Honda has delayed the planned May 4 opening to May 8.
Of the major automakers, only Toyota is planning a May 4 reopening at its North American plants, and that plan calls for a gradual restart of production, not bringing back all workers at once.
Most U.S. auto plants have been closed since the third week of March, so even if Toyota hits its target, plants will have been closed for six weeks. UAW-represented plants appear to be headed for at least 8-week shutdowns.
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.