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UAW asks automakers to shut down plants for two weeks


Update: 10:40 p.m.  

GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler have agreed to new measures to protect UAW plant workers from the coronavirus. The measures include deep cleaning of facilities and equipment between shifts, increasing time periods in between shifts, and plans to increase social distancing between workers as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. Currently, many of the companies' white collar workers are working remotely.

Original post: 5:40 p.m.

The United Auto Workers union has asked GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler to close U.S. plants for two weeks.

But so far, the automakers have said no. The companies have submitted alternative proposals to the union to protect workers from the coronavirus.

Kristin Dziczek is an analyst with the Center for Automotive Research. She says it's understandable workers are worried.

"A couple hundred to a couple thousand people in one place at one time, all touching the same product, even if they're wearing gloves," she says.  "I think there's a lot of concern and worry among auto assembly and parts workers about what that environment is like for them."

Union leaders say if they're not satisfied with the alternatives proposed, they will take other steps to protect members.

Dziczek says a one-week shutdown would be costly, both for the workers, GM and the economy. It could result in an annual loss of 94,400 total U.S. jobs. A six-week shutdown could result in a loss of 566,600 jobs.

On the other hand, Dziczek says what is happening in China is heartening. The industry is recovering, she says. Automakers have been re-opening closed plants in China one by one over the last month.

"The return to normalcy is happening," she says. "People are going back to the plants, and there is not a new outbreak of the COVID-19 disease as a result."

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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