Detroit’s Big Three automakers announced Wednesday that they are ceasing production at their U.S. plants due to the coronavirus, showing how the economic damage from the pandemic is spreading beyond the service sector.
Ford said it would halt production at all North American facilities from the end of Thursday’s shift through March 30. GM said it would suspend work at its plants over the same time frame. Fiat Chrysler said it will be idling its facilities through at least March 31.
All three companies said they were working closely with the United Auto Workers union to carry out an orderly shutdown. They plan to clean down the facilities and develop “social distancing” measures before reopening. The union said closing down temporarily was the prudent thing to do to protect employees and their families.
Most of the job losses due to the worsening coronavirus outbreak have hit the hospitality sector, with hotels, restaurants and other gathering places closing down to limit transmission of the virus. But as the plant closures show, the pandemic can disrupt pretty much any work that requires employees to be in close proximity and can’t be done remotely.
The UAW said Tuesday that a worker at GM’s technical center in Warren, Michigan, tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. GM said it would reevaluate the closures on a week-by-week basis starting at the end of the month.
Ford had to close its assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, Wednesday morning after a worker there tested positive. The company said it was disinfecting the building and had encouraged anyone who’d had contact with the worker to self-quarantine.
The preliminary two-week shutdowns mirror the precautions taken by many school districts around the country. In all cases, the closures could end up lasting much longer than expected. Public health experts are warning that it could be months before the spread of the virus has been checked and life and work can return to normal.
Despite the measures taken by the Big Three, some other automakers were continuing production as scheduled. Amanda Plecas, a spokesperson for Germany-based Volkswagen, told HuffPost its distribution centers and Tennessee production plant were “still in operation.”
“We continue to monitor this evolving situation and will make any necessary adjustments to business operations with the health and safety of our employees as the top priority,” Plecas said in an email.
A spokesperson for Nissan did not immediately respond via email to HuffPost’s question of whether the company is planning to curb production due to the pandemic. But according to Payday Report, workers at the company’s plant in Canton, Mississippi, were still required to show up for work as of Wednesday morning.
“Everybody is on edge. They want to come to work cuz they feel that they have to get a paycheck,” one worker told the news outlet.
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