Auto Workers Nervously Punch the Clock After Two-Month Hiatus
(Bloomberg) -- At Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s pickup plant north of Detroit, 1,200 workers weaved through chain-linked orange traffic tubes starting at 4 a.m. Monday, many of them anxious to do what they hadn’t in two months: punch in for their shift.
The automaker and its peers General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. resumed U.S. production after weeks of careful planning that managed to sway an apprehensive United Auto Workers union it was safe to do so. Their restart was sorely needed for an economy that’s suffered from overall U.S. factory production plummeting in April by the most in records dating back more than a century.
“I think it’s too soon,” said Maria Hall, an assembly worker who’s been at Fiat Chrysler for seven years. She and her family have been praying for her safety. “We’re hoping for the best.”
The scene at Fiat Chrysler’s Warren truck factory -- which has had four workers die of Covid-19, according to the UAW -- is illustrative of how the industry is getting back to work. Employees handed off completed daily health-risk questionnaires to a worker at a stand built out of plexiglass, then walked down a long hallway to have their temperature taken. Most wore masks and many said they were nervous. Those with symptoms consistent with Covid-19 have their badges disabled and are sent home to call a medical hotline.
“There is no question that coming to work will look and feel different,” Mike Manley, Fiat Chrysler’s chief executive officer, said in a statement last week. “We have worked closely with the unions to establish protocols that will ensure our employees feel safe at work and that every step possible has been taken to protect them.”
The first day back has been smooth, with few staff being turned away after their health checks, according to Brian Rothenberg, a spokesman for the UAW, which represents the three carmakers’ workers. The union continues to advocate for more testing.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump will visit a Ford components plant that’s been re-purposed to manufacture ventilators and personal protective equipment.
The automakers’ shares surged Monday amid a broader-market rally fueled by reopening optimism. GM soared as much as 11%, while Fiat Chrysler jumped up to 9.5% and Ford advanced as much as 8%.
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