Sterling Heights Assembly Suspends Operations Over Coronavirus

WWJ News
March 18, 2020 - 10:02 am

    **UPDATE 12:45 PM —  Ford, GM And FCA Will Reportedly Close All Factories Amid Pandemic. LATEST INFO HERE.

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    (WWJ) First came news that an FCA employee at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant had tested positive for coronavirus, then a rumored wildcat strike was denied ... and now the company announced operations at the plant will be suspended today.

    How long operations will be suspended is unclear. A decision will be made later today.

    The employee who tested positive is currently receiving medical care, officials said, and had not been in the plant for over a week.

    Deron Gordon, a machine operator at the plant, said their concerns include not having sterile gloves — with everybody touching the same computers.

    Also: "If somebody sneezes, coughs, whatever, the big industrial fans are just blowing all the germs around," he told WWJ's Mike Campbell. "We're just constantly in it for ten hours a day, and we've got three shifts; so you do the math. We've got 2,000 people on one shift, you know, you're talking 6,000 people in the same place ten hours a day."

    The company said in a statement that it ended production "out of an abundance of caution."

    Second shift workers were also told not to report.  A decision on resumption of operations will be made later Wednesday, the automaker said.

    On Tuesday, FCA announced a deep clean, saying it was complying with CDC guidelines and its own protocols, directing co-workers who may have had contact with the employee to self-quarantine for the next two weeks and that the employee's working area has been deep cleaned and disinfected. 

    The UAW had been calling for a two-week shutdown for worker safety, but the Big Three have been resistant, agreeing instead to a rotating partial shutdowns of facilities, extended periods between shifts so they can do more sanitizing of equipment, and more rotation of shifts. 

    Through a prepared statement yesterday, FCA said it has been diligent in doing everything it can to prevent the spread of this virus and adopted the following measures: 

    • Separating working shifts by a minimum of a one-hour at most U.S. assembly plants.
    • Staggering breaks and lunches to increase the distance between people.
    • Arranging seating in the cafeterias and break areas to guarantee proper distance.
    • Increasing housekeeping services in cafeterias, bathrooms, and other high traffic, high use areas, including frequent touchpoints.
    • Providing materials - spray bottles with disinfectant, rags and gloves - to employees to conduct cleaning and disinfecting protocols at the start and end of each shift.
    • Offering gloves in certain areas.
    • Conducting safety talks and specific training as well as using signage and broadcasts through Andon boards to remind employees of proper preventative protocols.
    • Installing partitions between workstations at some powertrain facilities.
    • Restricting domestic and international travel.
    • Restricting visitors at all FCA facilities.

    A local TV station reported late Tuesday a wildcat strike was coming at the plant, with workers planning to walk off the job, but FCA spokeswoman Jodi Tinson told the Freep an unauthorized walkout did not occur.

    "No walkout. We sent the plant home so we could do a deep clean," she told the Free Press. "We cleaned and sanitized. Getting plant up and running this morning."

    News broke at about 9 a.m. Wednesday the story had changed again.

    Workers at Sterling Heights Assembly make the new Ram truck.