Detroit automakers agree to shut down all factories

A 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD being built Thursday, January 24, 2019 at General Motors Flint Assembly in Flint, Michigan. (Photo by John F. Martin for Chevrolet)
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DETROIT (AP) (3/18/2020) - Two people briefed on the matter say Detroit's three automakers have agreed to close all of their factories due to worker fears about the coronavirus.

The United Auto Workers union has been pushing for factories to close because workers are fearful of coming into contact with the virus. 

General Motors was beginning a "systematic orderly suspension" of manufacturing in North America beginning soon. The shutdown will last until March 30.

The plant closures will happen one-by-one. The Flint Assembly plant will be operating until the end of second shift on March 25 before closing -- a full week after Wednesday's announcement.

"You just have to roll with the punches, not panic," said UAW Local 598 official Paul Muehlenbeck Jr. "Everyone's kind of panicking. Just do what you normally do, everyone use common sense, wash your hands, we shouldn't have to be told that."

GM workers in Flint have expressed frustration over the past week about remaining open and working in close quarters with each other during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Flint manufacturing complex could have 7,500 people under one roof at the same time.

"There's a lot of sanitation in there. They're trying to do what they can, but how do you do that with thousands of workers passing each other every eight hours of the day," Muehlenbeck said. "You're running three shifts. It's hard to control the atmosphere."

Ford Motor Co. said it will suspend production at end of Thursday evening's shifts through March 30. The automaker plans to thoroughly clean its facilities to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.

Managers also will collaborate on ways to allow proper social distancing for workers when they return to the plants.

“In these unprecedented times, we’re exploring unique and creative solutions to support our workforce, customers, dealers, suppliers and communities,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of North America.

Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles planned to start the process of shutting down plants on Wednesday and continue through the end of March. Company officials will work on changes to shifts and enhanced cleaning methods.

“Working with the UAW, and having visited many of our plants yesterday, we need to ensure employees feel safe at work and that we are taking every step possible to protect them," said Fiat-Chrysler CEO Mike Manley. "We will continue to do what is right for our people through this period of uncertainty.”

The closures come after Fiat-Chrysler and Ford said they were suspending production at Detroit-area plants after workers tested positive for coronavirus.

Fiat-Chrysler closed its Sterling Heights Assembly Plant while Ford closed its Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne.

The automakers made the announcements Wednesday, a day after the employees had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

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