UAW union sought two-week plant shutdown over coronavirus

OEM waiting period expires Tuesday; UAW may seek immediate shutdowns

The United Auto Workers said Tuesday it had asked Detroit's Big Three workers to shutdown all U.S. plants for two weeks in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

UAW President Rory Gamble in a letter to members seen by Reuters said General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV were not willing to do so and instead asked "for 48 hours to put together plans to safeguard workers in their facilities." The UAW said that period expires later today and the union will "evaluating what the companies submit today."

Gamble added the automaker will be "put on notice that the UAW will use any and all measures to protect our brothers and sisters who are working in their facilities."

General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler formed a coronavirus task force along with the United Auto Workers union to improve protections for their employees and limit the spread of the highly contagious virus.

The task force, which focuses on areas including vehicle production plans, is being headed by UAW President Rory Gamble, GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra, Ford CEO Jim Hackett, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and FCA CEO Michael Manley, the parties said in a joint statement on Sunday.

Though automakers typically schedule plant staffing to allow for a certain proportion of absent workers, according to industry consultants, if the outbreak causes higher levels due to infection or workers staying home to care for children whose schools are closed, that could lead to reduced production or in extreme cases shutdowns.

Production at an FCA assembly plant in Canada was halted for 24 hours after employees there refused to work on Thursday over fears of an employee being possibly exposed to the coronavirus.

Separately on Thursday, the Italian-American automaker said that one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, at its transmission plant in Indiana. The plant, however, remained open.

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