xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Fiat Chrysler’s Windsor workers shut down line over virus scare

A Fiat logo pictured on a car in Bayonne, southwestern France, Thursday, Oct.31, 2019.The boards of Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot announced Thursday fast-moving plans to merge the two companies creating the world's fourth-largest automaker with enough scale to confront "the new era in mobility".
A Fiat logo pictured on a car in Bayonne, southwestern France, Thursday, Oct.31, 2019.The boards of Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot announced Thursday fast-moving plans to merge the two companies creating the world's fourth-largest automaker with enough scale to confront "the new era in mobility".(Bob Edme/AP)

Production at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Windsor Assembly Plant in Windsor, Ont., came to a standstill mid-afternoon Thursday after employees there have refused to work because a worker there is in self-quarantine amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

There are no confirmed cases of the virus at the plant, the automaker said, though the employee may have come into contact with an infected individual. Canada’s Ministry of Labour visited the plant Thursday to investigate and determined the work environment was safe.

Advertisement

Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy on Facebook told union members who work at Windsor Assembly: “Folks, I know these are scary times but we need to take a breath. We are currently not in a full-blown crisis here.”

He further said the union cannot dictate whether Fiat Chrysler closes its doors. Cassidy said Unifor “has made it clear with our workplaces that we need to be kept up to date with their plans of actions and precautions they are taking to keep our members safe.”

Windsor Assembly employs more 5,800 people to build the Chrysler Pacifica, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Chrysler Voyager and Dodge Grand Caravan.

A Fiat Chrysler employee at the company’s Kokomo Transmission Plant in Indiana tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week, but production there “continued as normal” Thursday, said company spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said. The employee is the first known person in the United States employed by one of Detroit’s three automakers to test positive for COVID-19.

The company has placed into home quarantine the Kokomo employee’s immediate co-workers and others in the facility he may have come into direct contact with. “Additionally, the company has deep cleaned and disinfected his working area and is deploying additional sanitization measures across the entire facility, retiming break times to avoid crowding and deploying social spacing,” the company said Thursday.

Fiat Chrysler also is changing its production techniques at several plants to enable greater spacing between employees, CEO Mike Manley wrote Thursday evening in an email to employees. The company is stepping up cleaning and sanitization at all facilities and providing masks where deemed necessary.

Ford and GM do not have any known coronavirus cases in the United States, representatives said. GM, however, will pay quarantined employees — whether sick or exposed to someone who tests positive — the hours for which they were scheduled, spokesman Jim Cain said Friday. At Ford, it has not been an issue to date, Ford spokesman Mark Truby said.

The United Auto Workers’ contract with the automakers provides some paid sick leave to employees, but the union is in discussions about employees who cannot work because they are quarantined but not sick.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, Detroit’s three automakers are canceling company events and allowing some of employees and contractors to work from home to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

Fiat Chrysler is “accelerating the deployment of working remotely” that is being rolled out “department-by-department,” Manley wrote. The practice already is the “new normal,” he said, at offices in China, Korea, Japan and Italy.

“The UAW and FCA are working together during this unprecedented and challenging situation to address issues on a case by case basis,” Cindy Estrada, UAW vice president and FCA Department director, said in a statement. “The UAW feels strongly that no member should be disadvantaged in response to the COVID-19 process. Our first priority is to ensure the health and welfare of our members.”

GM CEO Mary Barra said Friday in a message to employees that starting Monday the Detroit automaker was making the work-from-home allowance “if the nature of your work allows for it.” The policy applies globally, though not in China, and will not halt production at GM’s manufacturing facilities.

“These are important steps to lower the probability of spreading the coronavirus to coworkers, families and communities and to relieve the burden on public resources,” Barra wrote. “It also helps conserve critical resources like cleaning crews, medical staff and supplies so they can be deployed where they are most needed.”

Ford also starting Monday is permitting those who work in jobs that are not “business critical” to work remotely “for the foreseeable future” if they can perform their duties off-site, Truby said Friday on a conference call. The global policy does not apply to China, “where the conditions there are improving and more in a back-to-work mode.” Manufacturing is not expected to be affected.

Advertisement

“Obviously we need to keep our factories moving,” Truby said. “That’s the goal. We’re taking all the precautions we can to do extra sanitization and social distancing where possible.”

Ford, however, will “close a specific facility where there was exposure to a confirmed coronavirus case for at least 24 hours so the building can be disinfected,” CEO Jim Hackett wrote in a letter to employees.

Truby did not have an immediate figure of how many employees could be working from home, but said it would be “many thousands” and the “vast majority of our white-collar workforce outside of China.” Ford also has canceled the reveal of its highly anticipated off-road Bronco SUV next week.

Fiat Chrysler is postponing or canceling “most company events,” including large employee gatherings, auto shows and sponsored commercial events, Manley added.

The automakers have said they are working to ensure a consistent flow of parts and components to continue production. But experts say demand could be the greatest challenge. Auto sales dropped almost 80% year-over-year in February in China because of the virus.

There has been some impact on showroom traffic in some parts of the United States, Ford’s Truby said.

Companies leaders called on their employees to continue to perform at their best, despite the disruptions.

“Given the current drop in use of public transportation and extensive flight cancellations,” GM’s Barra wrote, “our customers are looking to us more than ever to ensure they have the vehicles, parts and services they need.”

© 2020 The Detroit News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement