The Fiat Chrysler plants in Kokomo and Tipton will to return to full operation next week and bring back the entire workforce after restarting six weeks ago.
Around 1,500 out of the more than 7,000 local employees returned to work on May 27 after a two-month closure due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Since then, the company has gradually brought back workers, and only around 1,100 employees are currently still on layoff, according to Jodi Tinson, FCA’s communications director for manufacturing and labor.
Starting next week, those employees on layoff will be brought back as well, marking the first time the plants have been fully operational since the shutdown.
Rick Ward, president of United Auto Workers 685, which represents the plants in Kokomo and Tipton, said most employees are ready to get back to work after months of unemployment.
“The membership understands that if we aren’t building transmissions, we’re not getting a paycheck, so I think mostly everybody is ready to come back to work, one way or the other,” he said.
Tinson said the local plants will be the final FCA facilities in the U.S. to fully reopen following the closures in March, and next week will mark the complete restart of operations in North America.
However, some plants will be closed for scheduled retooling for the upcoming weeks, including the assembly plants in Warren, Michigan, and Toluca, Mexico.
Fully restarting the local plants will be the biggest test of the company’s new safety protocols implemented to protect workers and the community from the spread of the virus.
Those safety measures include requiring employees to fill out a self-screening health risk assessment every day, as well as doing a temperature check. Masks and safety glasses are required for everyone in every plant.
The company has also implemented staggered start times and added time to breaks and lunch to minimize large gatherings. Workstations have also been spaced apart to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
The company said 10 minutes is dedicated to cleaning and disinfecting workstations at the start of each shift, and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting schedules have been developed for common and high traffic areas, including turnstiles, restrooms, cafeterias, locker rooms and conference rooms.
Ward said workers have adapted well to the new protocols.
“I think our people have done a really, really good job,” he said. “Our membership is coming to work and we’re building a lot of good transmissions. We’re very proud of them. All and all, I think it’s gone well.”
Bob Varsanik, FCA’s general manager of transmission and component operations, said the company is “very pleased with the progress of our restart locally.”
“While we recognize that wearing the mandatory personal protection equipment can be uncomfortable at times, our employees have adapted well and have followed the new protocols in order to keep everyone safe,” he said in a statement. “We expected nothing less, and are very proud of our Kokomo and Tipton workforce.”
Ward said although the local plants will be fully operational next week, employees’ work schedules and shifts may be different from before the facilities closed in March.
“We don’t know what normal is yet,” he said. “We’ll have everybody back, but it will be a while before we can figure out what’s normal.”