The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant photographed in 2014.
The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant photographed in 2014.
Photo: Getty Images
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Fiat Chrysler has been getting rich over the past few years, with booming truck and SUV sales, as my coworker David Tracy pointed out earlier this morning. What good has that done for the workers there? All that and more in The Morning Shift for March 25, 2020.

1st Gear: First Auto Plant Workers In U.S. Killed By Coronavirus

Earlier this morning we reported that FCA has already started COVID-19 layoffs. I hate to say that is a developing story, as we seek clarity on many, many contract workers abruptly let go when they need support the most.

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Let us also focus on two factory workers who tested positive for coronavirus have died, as Automotive News reports:

One of the employees worked at FCA’s Ram pickup plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. The other worked at a plant in Kokomo, Ind.

It was unclear when the workers died.

The UAW spokesman did not have any information about the people and was unable to confirm whether they were the same two workers who were already known to have tested positive earlier this month at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant and the Kokomo Transmission plant. An FCA spokeswoman, citing privacy reasons, didn’t have any information to share.

These would be the second and third coronavirus-related deaths at FCA. Just two days ago the Freep and the Detroit News reported that a non-UAW member at FCA’s Auburn Hills technical center also died. Per the Freep:

One UAW member in Auburn Hills confirmed he was told by a UAW official that a non-union FCA employee had tested positive and died. The internal discussion disclosed that the deceased was a man in his 50s who provided technical support for dynamometers, devices used for measuring torque and brake power required to operate a vehicle, FCA sources said.

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2nd Gear: Stimulus Bill Moves Forward

It’s not all the way signed but the bill has made it through the Senate, with the House and the White House coming up, as Bloomberg reports:

The plan includes about $500 billion that can be used to back loans and assistance to companies, including $50 billion for loans to U.S. airlines, as well as state and local governments. It also has more than $350 billion to aid small businesses. Then there is $150 billion for hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies.

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It’s funny seeing the airlines in there after they wasted tens of billions on stock buybacks instead of keeping their companies safe and healthy. Per Bloomberg:

Democrats demanded and won a series of restraints on corporations that would benefit from loans or investments from the Treasury Department, as well as an oversight mechanism for who gets money.

Any company receiving a government loan would be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan plus one additional year. They also would have to limit executive bonuses and take steps to protect workers. The Treasury Department would have to disclose the terms of loans or other aid to companies and a new Treasury inspector general would oversee the lending program.

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Also included are direct payments to individuals, but as we saw after the 2008 financial meltdown, none of this will make for lasting change without permanent measures to reshape our society.

3rd Gear: Kia Re-Closes Factory

Kia had re-opened its factory in Georgia on Monday. Not so fast, as Automotive News reports:

Kia Motors America, after closing its Georgia plant two days last week over supply chain problems and reopening Monday, will suspend production again beginning next week as the industry copes with the coronavirus pandemic.

The West Point plant — which builds the Optima, Sorento and Telluride — will close March 30 and is scheduled to restart April 13. Kia said in an emailed news release that the downtime includes a previously planned April 6-10 shutdown for new-model equipment changes.

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How long will the next re-re-opening last before another re-re-re-closure?

4th Gear: Uber And Lyft Have Bold Plan For Avoiding Paying Required Unemployment: Not Complying

Over the past few months we’ve been reporting how state governments have been winning back rights for ridesharing drivers, including wins in New York just yesterday. The New York Times has a new article up yesterday about how Uber and Lyft are handling this new reality:

But for many drivers, the problem is not a legal void. It is that the companies they work for have not complied with existing laws or agency rulings.The highest-profile case is in California, which passed a law last year requiring companies to classify workers as employees if the companies control how they do the work, or if they hire workers to perform a job central to the business.[...]In the meantime, the companies have chosen not to report drivers’ income to the state, as is required of employers. While the companies’ legal challenges play out, the state is failing to approve many unemployment claims from drivers, potentially leaving thousands in the lurch as their earning power collapses.Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department, which oversees unemployment benefits, said by email that applicants who were not eligible for benefits because the state lacked their wage information could follow up, and that the department would investigate, awarding benefits if it deems them misclassified. She said the department investigated many such cases even without a follow-up, but declined to say whether it was working to require Uber and Lyft to report drivers’ wages.

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This is not a glitch in how the corporate system works. This is the whole founding principle. Amass enough money to be able to hold out against what is right. It works!

5th Gear: Japanese Driving Schools Are Busy As People Avoid Public Transit

This is a troubling one from the Japan Times, noting that coronavirus has been reinforcing bad commuting systems rather than combating them:

At Paper Driver School Zero, which provides lessons for license holders in central Japan, some 10 percent of all students took up the course due to the spread of the new virus. In addition to those wishing to drive to work, people have signed up for reasons such as driving their children around and avoiding crowds.

School representative Kazuhiko Uetani said he was surprised at the many different kinds of reasons behind the spike in demand for lessons.

One student at the school, a man in his 40s, took a lesson Thursday after quitting his job at a hotel that had seen its business hit hard by the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. He will have to drive at his new workplace, although he has had very little driving experience despite his almost 20 years as a license holder.

“I took the lesson because driving for the first time in a while is really scary, and I couldn’t possibly do it alone,” he said.

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It’s an interesting read, in that there’s no one way that coronavirus doesn’t hit societies around the world.

Reverse: Lasting Change Can Happen, But It Has Never Come Easy

Per History:

In one of the darkest moments of America’s industrial history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City burns down, killing 146 workers, on this day in 1911. The tragedy led to the development of a series of laws and regulations that better protected the safety of factory workers.

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Neutral: Has Your Job Been Endangering You Over Coronavirus?

Jalopnik has an open email tips line of tips at jalopnik dot com as well as a guide on how to contact us securely. We have already written about UPS workers explaining how they’re given much worse treatment than their managers. Has your job been endangering you? Let us know.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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