Detroit automakers keep masks on to keep the factories running

In this news, we discuss the Detroit automakers keep masks on to keep the factories running.

DETROIT (Reuters) – When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March, all three Detroit automakers shut down factories and brought North American vehicle production to an unprecedented cold shutdown.

Today, four months after a slow and at times bumpy restart in May, many General Motors Co GM.N, Ford Motor Co FN, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV FCHA.MI factories are working near full capacity, continuing to grow faster than planned. resumption of sales.

So far, none of the Detroit Three have experienced a major COVID-19 outbreak since the restart of production, even as the coronavirus skyrockets in Midwestern and Southern communities outside the Walls From the factory.

“We have people who have tested positive, but it doesn’t affect operations,” said Gary Johnson, Ford’s global manufacturing manager.

Keeping the pandemic at bay has pushed automakers and 156,000 U.S. factory workers represented by the United Auto Workers into unfamiliar work routines and extraordinary levels of cooperation between rivals that will need to be sustained for months to come.

For automakers, auto makers’ COVID response has been as much about instilling new habits as it is relying on new technologies. Workers record their symptoms, or lack thereof, in smartphone apps and walk past temperature scanners on their way to their workstations.

But company and union leaders said masks, along with physical distance, are key to keeping assembly lines running.

“The mask is the foundation” of worker protection on the job, said Gerald Johnson, GM’s global manufacturing manager.


Auto workers have a habit of wearing protective gear such as shatterproof goggles and gloves.

Masks that cover the mouth and nose, however, were not standard equipment on auto assembly lines, and were hard to sell at first.

“The biggest complaint is the wearing of a mask,” United Auto Workers chairman Rory Gamble told Reuters. “Many of our members perform physical tasks. Wearing a mask prevents breathing. “

Beyond that, Gamble says, masks and distancing make it harder for workers to have conversations at work or socialize during breaks. “It’s pretty much out the window, and it’s been a longer day,” he says.

Masks prevent coworkers from reading each other’s expressions, which is often crucial in the noisy environment of an auto factory. At GM factories, employees wear badges that show their faces framed by the message: “I’m smiling behind my mask.”

The politicized mask-wearing controversy means that company and union officials need to put their messages on the importance of keeping masks on a constant repetition cycle.

“There were a lot of mixed messages from Washington that gave us heartburn,” Gamble said. The automakers and the union have agreed to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. The three companies have also adapted the measures taken at their factories in China, which were the first to be affected by the spread of the pandemic.

At GM’s Zero factory in Detroit, Scott Harwick, a UAW trade worker, said the mask-wearing debate outside the factory was not an issue inside. Sometimes a coworker lets a mask slip off during a long shift, he says. “You don’t have to say anything, just tap your mask.”


Coronavirus safety has now become one of the few areas in which automakers do not compete. Instead, the CEOs of the Detroit Three and the UAW have formed an extraordinary task force that meets every two weeks to share information and coordinate security policies.

Discussions can be as detailed as whether safety glasses or face shields provide better protection, said Scott Garberding, global manufacturing manager for Fiat Chrysler.

The restart has hit obstacles, UAW leaders and leaders said.

Some workers have filed complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that COVID safety procedures are not being followed, OSHA records show.

Ford and Fiat Chrysler said the complaints had been resolved. GM said four of the six complaints filed with OSHA were cleared and they were not cited or inspected by OSHA related to its COVID protocols.

“We are confident in our multi-layered approach to COVID-19 security, which has been shown to be effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace at our facilities,” said GM spokesperson Dan Flores, in a press release.

Detroit automakers are testing workers who show symptoms associated with coronavirus infection, but have not adopted widespread testing for their 156,000 factory workers.

All three companies have met workers who have tested positive for exposure to COVID-19, and at first there were brief stops to clean factories.

Absenteeism rates are even higher than normal in some factories, both due to concerns about infection and difficulties obtaining child care. UAW leaders have given companies more flexibility to use temporary workers. Automakers began to help workers obtain or pay for child care.

The Kentucky Ford Truck Plant and Louisville Assembly Plant employ about 2,000 temporary workers, said Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862, which represents about 16,000 hourly workers at the factories. .

“There are problems every night,” he says. “But the line is still going.”

Reporting by Joseph White, Ben Klayman and Chris Kirkham. Written by Joseph White; Editing by Nick Zieminski

Original © Thomson Reuters

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