The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 1:50 pm

UAW presses companies to close US factories

TOM KRISHER | Associated Press

DETROIT -- The United Auto Workers union wants Detroit's three automakers to shut down their factories for two weeks to keep its members safe from the spreading novel coronavirus.

But union President Rory Gamble says in an email to members obtained by the Associated Press that the companies were not willing to stop production.

Gamble says the union gave Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler two days to put together plans to safeguard workers. That period ends Tuesday afternoon.

The companies and union will meet this evening to discuss the safety measures. But Gamble says if the union isn't satisfied it will take unspecified further action to protect members.

“These companies will be put on notice that the UAW will use any and all measures to protect our brothers and sisters who are working in their facilities,” Gamble said in the message.

The three companies employ about 150,000 autoworkers at dozens of factories and parts depots across the country. Most of the manufacturing footprint is concentrated in the industrial Midwest, but the companies also have plants in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas and other states.

The dispute comes as union members complained that continued work at the plants would expose them to the virus.

Industry analysts have said it will be difficult to keep the factories open for very long as the COVID-19 virus spreads. Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Volkswagen, Daimler AG and PSA Groupe have closed their European factories to help stop the virus from spreading.

“There's very few industries where you get this many people together and they all touch the same things,” said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of labor and manufacturing for the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank in Michigan.

Analysts expect U.S. auto sales to take a nosedive as people stay home to avoid other people. The industry likely has enough inventory to satisfy slower demand because of the virus, they have said. Ford reported Tuesday that sales had fallen in Europe and that parts supplies have been interrupted.

On Sunday, the union and companies announced they would form a task force to deal with worker safety as the plants continued operating. Gamble says in the email that the group will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Messages were left seeking comment from all three companies.

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