DETROIT—The UAW has set a March 17 evening deadline to decide whether it is satisfied with the actions taken by the Detroit 3 to protect workers from the coronavirus pandemic or if it will seek stronger measures.
It's unclear whether the union might try to force the auto makers to halt production. A similar dispute is emerging in Canada.
UAW President Rory Gamble said in a letter to members and staff in the afternoon of March 17 that the union requested a pre-emptive two-week shutdown based on World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He said the auto makers "were not willing to implement this request" and asked for 48 hours to come up with a plan.
"The 48-hour window is up this afternoon," Gamble said in the letter. "We will be evaluating what the companies submit today and there will be a meeting this evening at 6 p.m., where the task force will review plans for the safety and health of all members, their families and our communities."
The union and automakers on SundaMarch 15 formed a joint task force to help coordinate efforts on how to safeguard workers during the virus outbreak. A number of union local leaders have voiced support for an immediate two-week shutdown.
Gamble said if the union is not satisfied that workers are being adequately protected, it "will take this conversation to the next level," without elaborating on what that could mean.
There was no immediate comment from the Detroit 3 auto makers, although one company spokesman noted the UAW-Detroit 3 task force was set to meet to discuss the situation later March 17.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, in a statement, said it "has already implemented extensive protocols to ensure the health and welfare of our work force. We are continuing to carefully monitor the situation and are making improvements as needed. As a member of the joint UAW-GM-Ford-FCA COVID-19 Coronavirus Task Force, we appreciate the opportunity to share best practices across the industry."
Said Gamble: "These companies 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."
"And make no mistake, we have powerful allies who have stepped up to help us. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, despite what you might have heard in some recent erroneous reports, was instrumental in assisting us in bringing the Big 3 to the table, as was U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell."
As of Tuesday afternoon, no plants in the U.S. or Canada had shut down in connection with the pandemic, aside from some brief disruptions.
Volkswagen Group of America closed its Chattanooga plant Monday for cleaning and to help employees find child care while many schools in the area are closed. Workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario, walked off the job for about 24 hours last week after a worker who might have been exposed to the virus began a self-quarantine.
Tesla's plant in Fremont, Calif., continued running Tuesday, despite a shelter-at-home order issued for six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area. And an FCA transmission plant in Kokomo, Ind., stayed online after a worker there tested positive for the COVID-19 disease.
Ford Motor Co. on Tuesday said it would temporarily halt production at its plants in continental Europe.
In Canada, Unifor Local 88 has called for a two-week shutdown of General Motors' CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ontario.
Local 88 Unit 1 chairperson Mike Van Boekel told Automotive News Canada on March 17 that he has called on GM to put the roughly 2,500 workers at the CAMI plant on layoff beginning March 23 for a minimum of two weeks. He said that while the decision is up to GM, it may have no choice as volumes decline.
Van Boekel wrote about his decision to call for the layoff in a March 15 letter to members.
"This may be the first time any union official has asked for a layoff of their entire membership, but these are not normal times," Van Boekel wrote.
A request for comment from GM Canada was not immediately returned.
John Irwin and Vince Bond contributed to this report.