Au­tomak­ers shut plants over coro­n­avirus fears

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - B Usiness - BY TOM KR­ISHER

Ford, Gen­eral Mo­tors, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Toy­ota con­firm they tem­po­rar­ily will shut down all North Amer­i­can fac­to­ries due to the coro­n­avirus threat.

Ford said its plants will shut down af­ter Thurs­day evening shifts through March 30. Fiat Chrysler’s clo­sures started in phases on Wed­nes­day and run through March 31. GM spokesman Jim Cain said its shutdown also started Wed­nes­day and will last through March 30; it will take sev­eral days to com­plete the shutdown and op­er­a­tions will be eval­u­ated weekly af­ter that.

“We have been tak­ing ex­traor­di­nary pre­cau­tions around the world to keep our plant en­vi­ron­ments safe, and re­cent de­vel­op­ments in North Amer­ica make it clear this is the right thing to do now,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a state­ment.

The move by Detroit’s three au­tomak­ers will idle about 150,000 work­ers. They likely will re­ceive sup­ple­men­tal pay in ad­di­tion to state un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. The two checks com­bined will about equal what the work­ers nor­mally make.

Cain said the pay at GM was still be­ing ne­go­ti­ated with the union.

Ford said it will work with lead­ers of the United Auto Work­ers union in the com­ing weeks on plans to restart fac­to­ries. The union has been push­ing for fac­to­ries to close be­cause work­ers are fear­ful of com­ing into con­tact with the virus.

Honda an­nounced plans Wed­nes­day morn­ing to close for a week start­ing Mon­day, putting ad­di­tional pres­sure on Detroit’s au­tomak­ers. Toy­ota plants will close Mon­day and Tues­day, re­open­ing Wed­nes­day af­ter a thor­ough clean­ing, the com­pany said.

In ad­di­tion, Hyundai sus­pended pro­duc­tion at its plant in Mont­gomery, Ala., on Wed­nes­day af­ter a worker tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus. The com­pany said pro­duc­tion would re­sume once its health and safety team de­ter­mines that the plant has been suf­fi­ciently san­i­tized.

The de­ci­sion by Ford, Gen­eral Mo­tors and Fiat Chrysler re­verses a deal worked out late Tues­day in which the three agreed to can­cel some shifts so they could thor­oughly cleanse equip­ment and build­ings, but keep fac­to­ries open. But work­ers, es­pe­cially at some Fiat Chrysler fac­to­ries, were still fear­ful and were pres­sur­ing the union to seek full clo­sures.

Fiat Chrysler tem­po­rar­ily closed a fac­tory in Ster­ling Heights, Mich., north of Detroit, af­ter work­ers were con­cerned about the virus. The com­pany said a plant worker tested pos­i­tive for the coro­n­avirus but had not been to work in over a week. One shift was sent home Tues­day night and the plant was cleaned. But that ap­par­ently didn’t sat­isfy work­ers, and two more shifts were can­celed on Wed­nes­day.

Ford said it closed an as­sem­bly plant in the Detroit sub­urb of Wayne, Mich., on Wed­nes­day

af­ter a worker there tested pos­i­tive for the virus that causes COVID-19. The com­pany said it is thor­oughly clean­ing and dis­in­fect­ing the build­ing. Pro­duc­tion will be halted through March 30, the com­pany said.

At GM’s pickup truck as­sem­bly plant in Flint, Mich., work­ers have been fear­ful ever since the virus sur­faced in the U.S., said Tommy Wo­likow, a union mem­ber who de­liv­ers parts to the as­sem­bly line.

Au­tomak­ers have re­sisted clos­ing fac­to­ries largely be­cause they book rev­enue when ve­hi­cles are shipped from fac­to­ries to deal­er­ships. So with­out pro­duc­tion, rev­enue dries up.

Each com­pany has other rea­sons to stay open as well. Ford, for in­stance, is build­ing up

F-150 pickup in­ven­tory be­cause its plants will have to go out of ser­vice later this year to be re­tooled for an all-new model.

2018, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The United Auto Work­ers had sought plant clo­sures to pro­tect mem­bers from the coro­n­avirus.

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