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UAW, Detroit automakers discuss coronavirus safety to reopen plants

General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are working with the UAW union to iron out how to restart work safely.

Jeep Wrangler production
Perhaps we'll see assembly lines running again in May.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
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General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have begun discussions with the United Auto Workers union over safety protocols necessary to restart production in the US as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Each automaker hit the brakes on US production over a month ago to slow the spread of COVID-19, and on Monday, Reuters reported the Big Three are in discussions with the UAW to restart at least some production in May. Union leaders also told the publication a final deal must include the ability for workers to self-quarantine without losing pay, should they fall ill with COVID-19.

Other leaders believe production shouldn't restart until all workers have access to proper protective gear inside facilities. Another solution could be to weld curtains between work stations for those who can't remain six feet apart on the job.

"If this is going to work, we need to do this right," a UAW spokesperson said in a statement. "And importantly the return to work date should be dictated by the science of the contagion curve, not economic factors. If we do this wrong, we all will only have a prolonged economic hardship.

"The only litmus test that matters is whether you would send your own family, your own son or daughter, into the plant and be certain they will return home safely."

"Ford and the UAW are working closely to identify different ways to keep our people safe when they return to work," a Ford spokesperson said in a statement. "Meanwhile, we are continuing to assess public health conditions, government guidelines and supplier readiness to determine when the time is right to resume production in our North American plants." The automaker did not commit to any new production restart date.

FCA echoed Ford's comments and said it's "working closely with governments at all levels and our unions to ensure we have effective protocols in place to protect our employees when production resumes."

GM declined to comment on the discussions.

While production went idle in the US, and across North America, demand crashed. Auto sales plunged in Q1 as states issued stay-at-home orders and many dealerships closed when labeled nonessential amid measures to curb the virus' spread. Most automakers expect stifled demand this year, though there are some glimmers of hope that sales could rebound.

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First published April 21.