UAW, Detroit automakers negotiate rotating partial shutdowns of US plants

An employee uses a flash grinder to smooth out the metal frame of a sports utility vehicle (SUV) on the production line at the General Motors Co. (GM) assembly plant in Arlington, Texas.
Matthew Busch | Bloomberg | Getty Images

America's automotive manufacturing will not come to a standstill as the coronavirus spreads throughout the country.

General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler have negotiated with the United Auto Workers union to "review and implement the rotating partial shutdown of facilities" and other additional measures in an attempt to keep workers safe and healthy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the union announced Tuesday night.

The actions are expected to be a compromise between the companies and union after UAW President Rory Gamble on Sunday urged the automakers to cease production for two weeks due to the spread of the virus in the U.S., including employees from each of the automakers.

"All three companies have agreed to new measures that will increase adherence to CDC recommendations on social distancing in the workplace," the union said in an emailed statement. "Most importantly, all three companies have agreed to review and implement the rotating partial shutdown of facilities, extensive deep cleaning of facility and equipment between shifts, extended periods between shifts, and extensive plans to avoid member contact."

It's unclear at this time how the union and automakers plan to implement the "rotating partial" shutdowns. The union said it expects "more detailed information to be released in the next 24 hours."

GM and Fiat Chrysler did not respond to a request for comment. Ford, in an emailed statement, said: "The health and safety of our workforce is our top priority. We're working closely with the UAW and are aiming to announce details in the next 24 hours."

The actions follow the coronavirus brining China's manufacturing to a standstill, followed by several automakers, including Ford and Fiat Chrysler, announcing plant closures or plans to temporarily end all manufacturing in Europe due to the virus. 

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The Detroit automakers last week announced new work-from-home policies for salaried workers whose responsibilities didn't require them to physically be there, but employees in the plants were told to report to work as the companies initiated additional safeguards to reduce the spread of the virus. Measures included additional cleaning, sanitizing supplies and visitor restrictions, among other things.

Such efforts were not enough for Gamble, who on Sunday put the automakers on notice. He urged them to cease production for two weeks due to the coronavirus. He gave them a 48-hour window to deliberate, which included creating a task force of Gamble, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and President and CEO Jim Hackett, and Fiat Chrysler CEO Michael Manley.

Union leaders for each of the automakers will be with the companies "to implement these improvements and most importantly arranging shifts to be set to adhere to CDC required social distancing and protection of members," the union said.