By TIM ROWDEN
Under pressure from the United Auto Workers, Detroit’s Big Three automakers are shutting down their U.S. plants citing concerns for employees who work in close quarters building automobiles and the need to stem the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.
Honda and Toyota are shutting down their North American factories as well.
UAW represents about 150,000 hourly workers at General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler auto plants nationwide, including 4,000 represented by UAW Local 2250 at the GM assembly plant in Wentzville, which stopped production Friday, March 20, at the end of the second shift.
Glenn Kage, president of UAW Local 2250, which represents workers in the Wentzville facility, said the plant would be closed “for an undetermined amount of time.”
The automakers initially rejected the UAW’s demand to shut assembly lines to help deal with the threat of a rapidly spreading pandemic but were forced to agree to the shutdown under pressure from the union after a worker at the Ford assembly plant in Michigan tested positive for the virus.
UAW President Rory Gamble called the shutdown “the prudent thing to do.”
RESPONDING TO EVENTS AS THEY HAPPEN
In a video message to Local 2250’s membership, Kage said, “We will continue to respond to events as they happen with the safety our members and their families at the top of our list. Changes are occurring hourly, and we will continue to update our members with the changes as they develop.”
Kage noted the federal guidelines proposed by the Trump Administration for “social distancing” and crowd sizes have been adjusted from an original number of 250 people to 50 and now 10 or less.
“Observing social distancing in public does no good if our members are subjected to hundreds of co-workers working in close proximity,” he said. “Every time they walk through the doors to our plant, they subject not only themselves but their families to the possibility of contracting the virus.”
Kage said workers would receive union-negotiated Supplemental Unemployment Benefits roughly equal to 80 percent of their regular salary during the shutdown.
GM CEO Mary Barra said the shuttered plants will be deep-cleaned and disinfected during the closure, adding that GM will evaluate the situation “week by week” after March 30.
UNION HALL CLOSED TO MEETINGS AND EVENTS
Local 2250 has temporarily suspended all trips, union meetings and events at the Local’s union hall in Wentzville. Though the hall is continuing to operate at limited capacity, Kage urged members to call rather than come to the hall in person.
“We recommend anyone with questions to call the hall at 636-327-5796,” Kage said. “We’re discouraging people from coming to the hall.”