Virus, UAW Prompt GM, Ford And Fiat To Halt Production

By Linda Chiem
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Law360 (March 18, 2020, 8:33 PM EDT) -- General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler confirmed Wednesday they'll temporarily shut down production at factories across North America through the end of March to combat the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus following pressure from the United Auto Workers labor union.

The Detroit auto giants said they reached a deal with the UAW, which represents more than 400,000 auto industry workers, to suspend production at their plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico at least through March 30.

The sweeping shutdown of American auto manufacturing in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic comes just a day after General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler initially agreed to a rotating partial shutdown of their factories with reduced staffing and staggered shifts in order to follow social distancing directives and deep-clean their facilities more extensively.

Leaders of all three companies and the UAW established a task force on Sunday, setting off rounds of intense negotiations after the union urged for all plants to shut down to protect workers.

"UAW members, their families and our communities will benefit from today's announcement with the certainty that we are doing all that we can to protect our health and safety during this pandemic," UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement Wednesday. He also said such bold action is "the prudent thing to do."

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles confirmed it will progressively shut down production starting Wednesday through the end of the month and reevaluate its manufacturing operations after that. The company said it will implement changes agreed with the UAW, including shift timings, structures and enhanced cleaning protocols, during that time.

"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," FCA CEO Mike Manley said in a statement Wednesday. "We will continue to do what is right for our people through this period of uncertainty."

GM explained that its plants will suspend operations "in a cadence," with each facility receiving specific instructions from manufacturing leadership, until the end of the month. After that, production status will be reevaluated week to week, GM said.

"GM and the UAW have always put the health and safety of the people entering GM plants first, and we have agreed to a systematic, orderly suspension of production to aid in fighting COVID-19/coronavirus," GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement Wednesday. "We have been taking extraordinary precautions around the world to keep our plant environments safe, and recent developments in North America make it clear this is the right thing to do now."

Ford Motor Co. confirmed it will halt manufacturing at all of its North American plants after the Thursday evening shifts and lasting until March 30 to thoroughly clean its facilities to protect its workforce and boost containment efforts for COVID-19.

"We're continuing to work closely with union leaders, especially the United Auto Workers, to find ways to help keep our workforce healthy and safe — even as we look at solutions for continuing to provide the vehicles customers really want and need," Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford North America, said in a statement Wednesday. "In these unprecedented times, we're exploring unique and creative solutions to support our workforce, customers, dealers, suppliers and communities."

Earlier on Wednesday, Ford had already temporarily closed a building at its Michigan assembly plant after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, saying it would thoroughly clean and disinfect the building. Ford also said individuals that had direct contact with the infected employee would be instructed to self-quarantine and get medical attention.

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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