Sterling Heights

How Michigan's auto plants have altered for workers' return

Michigan's automotive giants began phased restarts this week, with workers returning to Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) plants in Sterling Heights on Monday.

Paid volunteers from the United Auto Workers (UAW) union have been producing face masks for more than six weeks at Ford's Van Dyke transmission plant for use at its facilities nation-wide as they reopen this week. Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer, said the company is using information from their reopened facilities in China and phased restart in Europe to inform safety precautions as they reopen across the U.S.
Ford manufactured face masks for internal use at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant.
Ford has compiled a return-to-work "playbook" and implemented safety protocols including reduced shifts, temperature scans upon arrival, required face masks, and face shields for jobs that don’t allow for social distancing. The company also requires daily online employee and visitor health self-certifications and is planning more time between production shifts to limit interaction between employees and allow for additional cleaning.

“We’ve developed these safety protocols in coordination with our union partners, especially the UAW, and we all know it will take time to adjust to them,” said Gary Johnson, Ford’s chief manufacturing and labor officer. 

FCA welcomed back nearly 12,000 employees on Monday and has also restarted operations at its facilities in China and Italy. The company mailed out a return-to-work package to nearly 47,000 U.S. and Canadian employees in preparation for this week's reopening.

Workers at FCA assembly and stamping plants on Van Dyke Avenue are required to wear face masks and glasses, as well as take a daily health risk assessment that sees employees take their temperature less than two hours before work and complete a self-screening questionnaire upon entry. New cleaning and social distancing measures include staggered start times, installed plexiglass partitions, and visual guides for social distancing in break areas and cafeterias.

Workers return to FCA facilities.“There is no question that coming to work will look and feel different," said Mike Manley, FCA CEO. 

The company is installing thermal imaging cameras to verify what employees and visitors have self-reported and have added extra screening questions after an employee at the Sterling Heights assembly plant tested positive to COVID-19 last week. 

"I am pleased to say that our protocols worked as envisaged," said FCA COO Mark Stewart in a statement. "The person was isolated and quarantined, more importantly our social distancing and personal protection equipment protocols were in full use."

“We have taken a ‘belt and suspenders’ approach to mitigating the spread of this virus by implementing lots of layers of protection,” said Scott Garberding, FCA's global chief manufacturing officer.

UAW has been working with FCA, Ford and General Motors to enhance protections for manufacturing workers and have established a "Big 3 Q&A" resource for employees concerned about returning to work. UAW president Rory Gamble said a COVID-19 task force will "continue their dialogue" with the three automotive companies.

Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is a freelance writer and editor, currently based out of Detroit. Contact her at kate@wanderoff.com.au
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