The United Auto Workers (UAW) union has given its approval to allow its workforce to go back to work and restart production in the United States amid the COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) pandemic. The UAW had been negotiating with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), General Motors (GM), and Ford Motor Company over how the Detroit “Big-Three” would return to work and what safety precautions each of the automakers would be conduction to keep the workforce safe.
Originally, FCA had announced that it was planning to restart production beginning on May 4th, however, both the Governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer and UAW curbed that plan when Gov. Whitmer extended Michigan’s stay-at-home executive order for May 15th and the union decided to follow her lead. Yesterday, Gov. Whitmer extended her order once again to June 1st, which caused a lot of conflict from people around the state. However, the Governor’s office said that the auto industry would be allowed to restart production as soon as Monday, May 11th.
FCA announced in its first-quarter results that the company expected to restart production on May 18th for its North American operations. The only exception would be the Belvidere Assembly Plant in Belvidere, Illinois which builds the Jeep® Cherokee, as it will restart production on June 1st.
The May 11th date should make it possible for most of Michigan’s automotive part suppliers to begin reopening their plants in preparation for the May 18th restart. Both GM and Ford have announced they will join FCA for an industry restart on the 18th.
The production restart couldn’t come at a better time, as the Big-Three has been worried about their pickup inventories getting low. Ram dealers currently have about a 114 day supply of its popular Ram 1500 pickups, that is roughly 20 days lower of supply than this time, last year.
We talked about the precautions that FCA will be taking at its North American manufacturing plants. The new protocol has already been put in place at other FCA facilities in China, Italy, and Mexico. The protocol includes the following steps…
- To ensure the safety of its employees, FCA would be sending temperature strips home with its employees to check their temperature before coming into work.
- Upon arrival to any of the company’s facilities, employees would walk through a thermal scanner to check for normal or abnormal body temperatures, and/or be scanned by an infrared thermometer before going through a confirmation process before entering.
- Each worker would have to wear surgical masks and nitrile gloves on top of their normal safety gear, which would be provided by the company.
- During the first ten minutes and the last ten minutes of each shift, the employee would be required to disinfect their work station.
- Designated break areas have been separated, and some have even had divider walls installed to ensure social distancing at all times.
- FCA also had some certain areas of the lines, re-engineered using special prop tools and weld curtains to allow social distancing of 1 meter.
- The original plan was to restart the plants with one-shift patterns and then eventually adding shifts.
So far there have been no incidents at any of the facilities that have reopened under the new protocols around the globe. FCA will continue to evaluate the situation as time goes on and will continue to manufacture Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), such as face masks for its manufacturing facilities.