DETROIT - By Monday next week, auto plants in North America will breathe their first sign of life following more than two months of silence since COVID-19 forced their closures.
But when workers return to their respective stations, things will look a little different. Frequent breaks for sanitizing intermixed with a bolstering of personal protective equipment will be among the latest changes for UAW employees that find themselves in assembly plants on May 18.
Fiat-Chrysler has laid out some of its best practices that will be implemented in factories. So far, more than 57 million square feet of production floor has been cleaned and disinfected. Workers will receive temperature checks and daily health screenings as nearly 17,000 work stations will deploy forms of social distancing, as per guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Instead of normal break hours, workers will operate their workstations in staggered start times. The factories are also installing thermal imaging cameras and requiring masks and safety glasses to be worn at all times. In-person meetings between employees will be suspended and transitioned to online.
FCA also plans to spend 10 minutes of each shift disinfecting and cleaning employee workstations.
"Above everything else, our top priority has always been to do what is right for our employees," MikeManley, FCA CEO, said. "We have worked closely with the unions to establish protocols that will ensure our employees feel safe at work and that every step possible has been taken to protect them."
FCA has also mailed out Return to Work packages to some 47,000 employees in North America. The packages contained best practices as certified by the World Health Organization, CDC, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"We have taken a 'belt and suspenders' approach to mitigating the spread of this virus by implementing lots of layers of protection," Scott Garberding, FCA's Global Chief ManufacturingOfficer, said. "You are a key part of successfully resuming operations. In this new environment, we all need to take responsibility for our own safety and that of the people around us.
Best practices for safety were among top priorities outlined by UAW President Rory Gamble in a letter last week, following whispers of a Michigan manufacturing restart on the way. As Detroit's Big 3 automakers prepared their assembly plants for a May restart date, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced last Friday she would be relaxing rules on the manufacturing industry.
Michigan, now in phase three of six, per the governor's economic re-engagement process, hasn't met the state's COVID-19 requirements yet to allow small gatherings of people. But it is seeing a precipitous decline in new cases, deaths, and hospitalizations - while testing for the virus continues to grow.