Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Fiat Chrysler, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, have agreed to temporarily shut down operations at all North American factories due to worker fears about the coronavirus.
The decision reverses a deal worked out late Tuesday with the UAW in which the automakers would cancel some shifts so they could thoroughly cleanse equipment and buildings. But workers, especially at some FCA factories, were still fearful and were pressuring the union to seek full closures.
Both FCA and GM plants will begin closing systematically through the end of the month. It will take several days to complete the shutdown, and operations will be evaluated weekly after March 30.
Locally, workers at the Kokomo General Motors Components Holdings plant are being told to stay at work through the end of the week. The plant currently employs around 250 full-time employees.
In a post on the UAW Local 292 Facebook page Wednesday, the union shared a message it said was from the local plant manager. Local 292 represents union members at Kokomo’s GM plant.
“At this time, Kokomo will work through the end of the week,” the post states. “All employees should continue to report to work....Again, thank you for your increased flexibility as we work through this unique time and keep safety top of mind.”
The move by General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford will idle about 150,000 auto workers. They likely will receive supplemental pay in addition to state unemployment benefits, according to the Associated Press. The two checks combined will about equal what the workers normally make.
Calls for the plant closures increased each day for the past week as auto workers across the country tested positive for COVID-19.
A worker at Kokomo’s Transmission Plant tested positive for COVID-19 last week.
FCA said it deep cleaned and disinfected the man’s working area and that it deployed additional sanitization measures across the entire facility, even re-timing break times to avoid crowding and reducing social spaces.
Despite the sanitation efforts, the Tribune has received a handful of messages from local FCA employees in recent days who expressed concerns about possible exposure to coronavirus while on the job.
Some say fellow workers who are sick had come to work because they couldn’t afford to stay home.
“We’ve had multiple people sent home waiting to be tested in self quarantine,” said one local FCA worker.
Other local FCA workers say sanitizer has run out and that the company’s social distancing and preventative messages are inadequate. Many who spoke to the Tribune said they hoped the plants would soon be closed.
UAW Local 685 President Rick Ward said closing the plants was the right thing to do and that the worker who contracted the virus is doing better.
“The Engineer local had one person confirmed and he is doing better we heard, so that’s good,” Ward told WTHR, the Tribune’s newsgathering partner.
In a statement Wednesday, FCA CEO Mike Manley said the company, after talks with the UAW, will make more changes to shift timings and structures and enhance its cleaning protocols.
“Working with the UAW, and having visited many of our plants yesterday, we need to ensure employees feel safe at work and that we are taking every step possible to protect them,” Manley said. “We will continue to do what is right for our people through this period of uncertainty.”
Honda and Toyota also said Wednesday it would temporarily suspend operations at its U.S. plants, beginning next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.