Auto Workers Are Taking This Into Their Own Hands

Illustration for article titled Auto Workers Are Taking This Into Their Own Hands
Photo: FCA

America’s blue-collar auto workers can’t work from home amid the global coronavirus pandemic, even if many of them argue that they shouldn’t be working at all. Some of those walked off the job Monday at Michigan’s Warren Truck Assembly, where they make the Ram 1500, perhaps in solidarity with some auto workers in Spain.

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Fiat Chrysler says that the walkout of 17 employees at the plant’s paint shop did not affect production, according to Automotive News, but that’s the kind of thing it would say, short of an actual plant-wide strike. The manufacturing line must go on, until it doesn’t, like in Europe, where eight of FCA’s plants are shut down as part of broader attempts there to slow coronavirus.

What’s the difference here? Probably something to do with how slow our federal government has been to respond. But rest assured FCA did announce a joint task force on Sunday along with GM, Ford, and the UAW. A task force will definitely solve this, for sure. The automakers said they would do the following:

All three companies and the UAW are working to coordinate action to prevent the spread of the COVID-19/coronavirus, including enhanced visitor screening, increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points, and implementing safety protocols for people with potential exposure, as well as those who exhibit flu-like symptoms.

The joint task force’s areas of focus will include vehicle production plans, additional social distancing, break and cleaning schedules, health and safety education, health screening, food service and any other areas that have the potential to improve protections for employees.

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Extra cleaning can never hurt, but the fact of the matter is that people who don’t feel sick are spreading coronavirus far and wide, meaning that all of the enhanced visitor screening and protocols for workers with flu-like symptoms could be for naught.

That also makes FCA’s statement—

“We are continuing to monitor the situation carefully and are taking all necessary precautions to safeguard the health and welfare of our work force,” the company said in a statement.

—seem ridiculous, because quite obviously at this point the safest thing would be to send the workers home.

In any case, the longer this goes, it seems clear it’s more likely some workers are going to decide independently that they’ve had enough.

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From Automotive News:

Ken Mefford, who works at the Warren plant, had a message for UAW leadership as virus cases continue to rise in the U.S.

“Why in the world are you letting us go into this shop if you know there’s a national pandemic and we might get it?” Mefford asked.

Another worker, who declined to be named, said more walk-offs could occur.

“[They have] a few people that were sick and they had enough,” the worker said.

In many ways, I agree that part of the blame here should be placed squarely on the UAW’s shoulders, though I’m sure the union is hearing from a lot of other members who don’t want to stop working at all, since they need to get paid to get by. The best solution, in other words, would be paid leave for FCA’s auto workers, with the company, which made $7.3 billion in profits last year, footing the bill. That seems like something an organized and activated union should try to negotiate!

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.

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DISCUSSION

Why is it any more fair for the company to shoulder this burden than the employees?

Neither caused this, its no one’s fault.

The fact that the company posted a profit last year is no more or less relevant to the situation than the fact that every UAW member received a healthy bonus last year.