Big 3 automakers will partially shut down US plants, bolster safety measures to protect workers

The UAW and the big three automakers have agreed to not close its manufacturing plants, in exchange for new safety measures and an increase in adherence to CDC recommendations on social distancing in the workplace. 

The agreement, which also includes rotating partial shutdowns of facilities, extensive deep cleaning of those facilities and equipment between shifts, comes after more than three hours of deliberations.

The UAW initially requested all three companies completely shutter its U.S. factories amid fears of the coronavirus on Tuesday.

"As you know, the UAW has strongly requested that the Big 3 automakers cease production for the next two weeks to safeguard our members, the workforce that makes their products and our communities," read a statement from Brian Rothenberg of the UAW. "We spent hours tonight in talks with the leadership of the Big 3, demanding that they do the right thing for our members."

In an effort to manage a potential disruption of the auto industry, the companies will keep the plants open while bolstering efforts to keep their workers safe from the coronavirus.


"The companies have also agreed to work with us in Washington, D.C., on behalf of our members as we manage the disruption in the industry. In order to enact these changes, each company will be working with UAW Vice Presidents to implement these improvements and most importantly arranging shifts to be set to adhere to CDC required social distancing and protection of members."

The announcement comes after two union auto workers tested positive for the coronavirus. One case was a GM employee who works at the Warren Tech Plant and the other works at FCA's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant.

Fiat-Chrysler says Sterling Heights plant employee tests positive for COVID-19
Employee at GM's Cole Engineering Center in Warren tests positive for Covid-19

Amid concerns that the spread of the coronavirus could be magnified in large crowds, the companies said they would be sending most of its employees home. However, plant and assembly workers would remain in factories. To protect the employees, all three major automakers said they would be enhancing protections and create a COVID-19/Coronavirus Task Force.

The initial protections included separating working shifts by a minimum of one hour at most plants, staggering breaks, increasing distance between people, and increasing housekeeping services in cafeterias, bathrooms and other high traffic areas.

Even with the ample protections, the UAW began putting pressure on the big three to close its U.S. factories on Tuesday. In a Facebook post made March 17, UAW President Rory Gamble said he had requested a two-week shutdown of operations to "safeguard our members, our families, and our communities."

"Your UAW leadership feels very strongly, and argued very strongly, that this is the most responsible course of action," he wrote.

Instead, the companies asked for 48 hours to put together plans to protect workers. That 48-hour window ended Tuesday afternoon and Gamble said he would meet with representatives from each company in the evening.

More detailed information is expected to come in the next 24 hours.