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Ford plans health screenings, temperature checks to bring office workers back beginning in June

Key Points
  • Ford expects to begin calling back salaried employees who have been working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic beginning in late June.
  • The roughly 124,000 white-collar workers are expected to be in the "final group" of employees to return to their locations.
  • The company will implement extensive safety measures and protocols across its U.S. facilities.
The Henry Ford II World Center, headquarters of the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan.
James Leynse | Corbis | Getty Images

Ford Motor expects to begin calling back salaried employees who have been working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic beginning in late June, executives said Thursday.

About 124,000 white-collar workers are expected to be in the "final group" of employees to return to their offices, according to Ford Chief Human Resources Officer Kiersten Robinson. She said employees will gradually return starting in late June and into early July.

Plant workers are expected to gradually return to work as early as next month as the company plans to begin reopening its U.S. plants in the second quarter. The facilities have been shut down since last month due to Covid-19.

Ford has not announced an exact start date for plants as it negotiates with the United Auto Workers union about safety and protocols. However, the company when discussing its first-quarter earnings Tuesday said it expects the process to begin in the second quarter. General Motors and Fiat Chrysler also are in talks with the union, which has opposed an early May reopening.  

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"We want to restart as soon as we can and do it safely," Ford Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley said Thursday during a call with media.

Farley and other executives said Thursday both groups of workers will return to work with extensive safety measures and protocols in place.

New protocols

The plans include extensive cleaning; mandatory face masks and, in some cases, face shields. Employees will need to clear health assessment and temperature checks, including thermal body scanners and handheld readers, when entering the building. Ford is also redesigning workplaces to allow for social distancing where possible.

There also will be protocols in place for how people enter and exit facilities, which can be a complicated process at large manufacturing facilities with thousands of workers on multiple shifts. The process will include audits of the facilities and staff monitoring the entering and exiting of the plants, Chief Manufacturing and Labor Affairs Officer Gary Johnson told CNBC.

Jim Farley, Ford Motor Company Executive Vice President and President of Global Markets, reveals the 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500 at the 2019 North American International Auto Show during Media preview days on January 14, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano | Getty Images

The actions are similar to those being implemented by Ford at international operations in Europe and China as well as its domestic facilities currently producing ventilators and personal protection equipment.

Regarding negotiations with the union, Johnson said he feels the sides are "aligned" on what needs to be done "from a protocol standpoint" as state governments end or lessen stay-in-place or shelter-in-place orders.

"I'm confident we're addressing everything we know now," he said. "It's just going through and next step and how do we go forward?"

UAW President Rory Gamble, in a statement, said the union continues "to engage in talks with Ford on an ongoing basis regarding protocols for the health and safety of our members in the workplace."

Covid-19 testing

The union has cited testing and data as important factors in its members returning to work. There have been different discussions about what that would entail and whether mass testing would be available and appropriate, people familiar with the plans previously told CNBC.

The UAW, according to Gamble, wants the most testing available to prevent exposure to the virus. He said the union understands "the availability and accuracy of tests are fluid, developing issues as we navigate this crisis."

"Our position is that we employ as much testing as is possible at the current time and commit to full testing as soon as it is available," he said. "We are also strongly advocating self-reporting and testing for those exposed to the virus or exhibiting symptoms at a minimum, and a stringent adherence to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines."

Johnson said if plant employees say they have coronavirus symptoms through their pre-work questionnaire or while at the plant, the company will arrange plans for testing and the results will be available within 48 hours.

GM previously said it plans to have testing kits available at all of its U.S. plants that also would include a 48-hour or less turnaround.

Ford's Farley said he "absolutely" would feel safe sending his family to work under the company's new safety protocols, something the union has pressed executives to answer.

"I think our playbook is benchmark," he said. "I completely trust the process we've come up with."