UAW signals support for Detroit's Big 3 safety measures as automakers eye reopening date

The UAW said it supports the safety protocols and added measures taken to protect its workers as one of Michigan's largest manufacturers eyed a restart date in the coming weeks.

While neither Ford or General Motors have said explicitly when their plants will restart production, Fiat-Chrysler said it was aiming for a May 18 restart date at all of its plants. All three have started deploying safety protocols and preparing their plants to reopen. Last week, Ford and GM called in skeleton crews to ready plants for reopening.

In a statement released by UAW President Rory Gamble, the labor boss acknowledged an ongoing dialogue between the union and automakers and that they supported a "number of measures put in place to address Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines..."

"As for the start date, the companies contractually make that decision and we all knew this day would come. Our UAW focus and role is and will continue to be, on health and safety protocols to protect our members," said Gamble.

Composite Getty Photos.

One of the most important measures the union required was a continual build-up of testing capacity within the state. Viewed as a necessity by business leaders and public health experts alike, many believe the country's economy can't reopen until its testing infrastructure is robust enough.

Guiding some of GM and Ford's safety protocols are rules already in place at other plants manufacturing essential products like ventilators and respirators. They're also pulling from how their plants in China reopened.

“In North America, we have dozens of suppliers in dozens of states as well as Canada and Mexico that all have to be ready to go,” GM Spokesperson Jim Cain said in an interview last week. “With proper safety procedures in place and employees ready to go back and our own supply chains primed, we’ll move through this process of suppliers restarting, then component plants, then assembly plants.”

RELATED: Life after COVID-19 won't be normal for Michigan workers as manufacturing needs system overhaul

Michigan's unemployment rate is among the highest in the country, partially due to the state's industries being so intimately linked to manufacturing, which dominates close to 20% of the economy and employes more than 600,000 workers. Many of those workers are at home due to executive orders mandated by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer whose stay home directive has closed businesses across the state.

Even when manufacturers do give their workers the green light to go to work, the decision to reopen Michigan's plants ultimately rests with Whitmer's decision to lift restrictions. While the emergency declaration was extended until May 28, her stay-home order lasts only until May 15.