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Detroit Free Press
UAW President Rory Gamble said on Thursday that the union did not support the return of factory workers to factories in early May, as some automakers have suggested.
“We think it’s risky right now. I’m not comfortable with a comeback in early May, “Gamble told Free Press. “We don’t see a solid opinion from doctors or scientists that it’s time to reopen society. You must understand that, in a manufacturing environment, we can implement many protocols that will help mitigate the spread of the disease, but it is almost impossible to practice 100% social distancing.
“Our members will work in this type of environment for a long time with the threat of infection hanging over them. “
His concern applies to plants nationwide, not just Michigan, he said.
General Motors confirmed on Thursday morning that it intends to send workers to its factories next week to prepare for the resumption of production. Fiat Chrysler said on April 6 that it was pushing its reopening target to May 4. The Italian-based automaker has recorded the most COVID-19 deaths among hourly workers at American auto plants. Its American factory workers have spoken out to report plant deaths, illnesses and safety concerns in recent weeks.
UAW workers at Ford said they were told May 4 was also a restart date.
“We are opposed to the May 4 date,” said Gamble.
Ford spokesman Kelli Felker noted that no decision had been made.
“Ford and the UAW continue to work closely on initiatives to keep our workforce safe when we restart our factories,” she said in a statement to Free Press. “We continue to assess public health conditions, government guidelines and supplier readiness to determine when to resume production. “
Union and business representatives met to try to find a way to resume production.
“Right now, companies have accepted all security protocols. But the overall science doesn’t allow an early start, ”said Gamble. “All of our workers are affected. We have members who want to return and we have many members who do not want to return. “
The fact is, many blue-collar workers have health problems related to manual labor that make them more vulnerable to illness, he said.
“I am satisfied with the response of companies to our discussions regarding facility health and safety protocols,” said Gamble. “But what has mitigated the virus is social distancing. The numbers are still at an alarming rate. You always see peaks in places. I’m not comfortable at this point with the return of our members to the workplace. “
Although the closure has been devastating to the economy, he said that most of the 150,000 UAW members who work on time at the Detroit Three really fear for their safety.
No way, companies have the contractual right to resume production, he said.
“But manufacturing was not considered essential,” said Gamble.
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“We actually started talking to the companies for weeks before we cut them down. We have seen the pandemic happen, ”said Gamble. “We wrestled with them as the news arrived, because the story was very fluid. It changed daily. This had a great impact on our discussions with companies linked to the virus. “
He said he supports the home support measures advocated by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has publicly stated that talks with the manufacturing sector are underway. Restrictions on staying at Whitmer’s home apply until May 1, although she said there could be extensions. The union supports longer restrictions so that once people return to work, they don’t have to worry about another disruption.
Gamble said the UAW supports all governors who extend stay orders.
“Our members need to hear specific information about the threat of the virus, what is the course of action to combat this thing and whether they will be safe or not. At this time, we don’t consider this to be strong enough to return to the workplace so soon, “said Gamble.
In the days leading up to the closure, there were reports of sick and frightened workers in the factories who, in at least one case, caused a conflict in the factory, so severe that it put an end to the operations.
More than two dozen UAW workers died after being diagnosed with COVID19.
“You can bring this thing home and it will go through the house,” said Gamble. “It is a very scary and deadly disease. I lost personal friends, like many of us, with whom I spoke on Saturday and they left on Wednesday. “
The issue for the UAW, said Gamble, is the hourly and salaried workers, the salespeople – everyone who enters the factory premises.
“The companies have been very receptive,” he said. “The big part that is difficult is the lack of testing in this country. It is therefore very difficult to assess what you are facing. “
As UAW vice presidents meet with Ford, GM and FCA, concerns about an early start continue to be expressed, said Gamble.
He said, “They have the right to plan and we have the right to defend our workers and make sure our members are safe. We intend to defend and fight for the safety of our members. I believe these companies have a mindset that they want the workers to be safe. But we must be the shepherds of our members. We know there are pressures to revive the economy. But we think returning to work is risky. “
Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: at 313-222-6512or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid. Learn more about Ford and sign up for our automotive newsletter.
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