Detroit 3 CEOs and UAW to face off over US factory production

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Workers on the assembly line at the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant, where the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator sport utility vehicles are worked on, seen here on Monday, June 24, 2019.

Workers on the assembly line at the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant, where the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator sport utility vehicles are worked on, seen here on Monday, June 24, 2019. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

DETROIT – The CEOs and top executives of the Detroit Three automakers will meet with UAW leaders starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss plant safety and addressing a hot topic – the union’s request to all three that they shut down the plants during the coronavirus crisis.

The UAW made the request Sunday as it and the Detroit Three formed a task force to address ways to safeguard workers’ health in manufacturing plants.

“(Shut down) is something we are trying to avoid,” said a person at General Motors who is familiar with preparation for the meeting. He asked to not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the matter.

GM leaders spent Tuesday afternoon studying options to increase worker safety while keeping the line humming. And, if that can’t happen, figuring out compensation during a two-week shutdown.

“Is it unemployment with sub-pay? What are the circumstances in which we do that? All of that has to be considered,” he said.

GM leaders are also considering the impact of a shutdown beyond the economic hit to the company and worker’s pay checks. Thousands of parts suppliers and dealers rely on auto manufacturing for their business revenues, too.

“So if you can continue to operate auto plants safely, you should probably do it,” the person said. “As we get through this crisis, you’re at least not starting to jump start this economy cold. You have capacity still on line.”

But many UAW members at Detroit Three factories have reached out to the Free Press in recent days with concerns about possible exposure to coronavirus while on the job.

“We’re actually scared on the floor,” said a UAW member at a Detroit Three plant. He asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.

UAW President Rory Gamble said during the union’s conversation Sunday with the car companies that union leaders requested a two-week shutdown of operations “to safeguard our members, our families, our communities.”

Likewise, leaders of UAW Local 600 at Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn Truck Plant said they filed a written grievance against Ford on Sunday asking the company to idle the plant for two weeks.

“Your UAW leadership feels very strongly, and argued very strongly, that this is the most responsible course of action,” Gamble said in a union letter. “The companies, however, were not willing to implement this request. They asked for 48 hours to put together plans to safeguard workers in their facilities.”

Meanwhile, a GM employee at its Technical Center in Warren and a Ford employee in product development in Building 5 in Dearborn have tested positive for coronavirus. On March 12, a worker in Indiana at a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plant tested positive for the coronavirus, the Detroit Free Press reported. The infected man works at FCA’s Kokomo Transmission Plant

T.R. Reid, Ford spokesman, said the company learned of the situation late

The 48-hour window expires Tuesday late afternoon, so the UAW “will be evaluating what the companies submit today and there will be a meeting this evening at 6 p.m., where the task force will review plans for the safety and health of all members, their families and our communities.”

At that meeting, besides the top officers at the companies and the union, there will also be the three carmakers’ medical professionals to offer advice, said the person familiar with the meeting. All options are on the table, he said.

Ford announced Tuesday morning it would shut down production in its European plants effective Thursday.

FCA has closed its manufacturing operations in Europe through March 27 while keeping its plants open in the U.S.

FCA spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said there have been no production changes in the United States. A spokesman for GM also confirmed production was running normal and they were closely monitoring the situation.

“There are two extremes to consider at the meeting: One is a shut down, the other is no change from where we are today, and that’s unlikely,” said the person.

That’s because the task force was formed with the intent to enhance safety in the plants with cleaner common areas and creative ways to do the job, but gain greater social distancing.

“So there could be any number of variations could be adopted,” said the person. “We believe we can operate safely. But it’s what they’ve asked for to try to prevent spreading the virus. We’re trying to underscore all the measures we’ve taken and can still take.”

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