By on May 1, 2020

Thursday’s health and safety update from Ford offered up details on that automaker’s back-to-work plan, with new info provided on how the company plans gradually ramp up production amid a pandemic. Ford seemed to suggest that its new protocol had the backing of a crucial organization: the United Auto Workers.

While neither the company nor the union can do anything to ease Michigan’s lockdown order, which runs through May 15th, UAW approval is needed to bring the Detroit Three’s plants back online. On Friday, the union’s stance seemed as firm as ever.

Or is it? In a statement released late Thursday, UAW President Rory Gamble seemed to agree with the general thrust of Ford’s plan, without endorsing it.

“We continue to engage in talks with Ford on an ongoing basis regarding protocols for the health and safety of our members in the workplace,” Gamble said.

In Thursday’s briefing, Ford spoke of the global “Return to Work Playbook” developed and distributed to guide all work spaces back into production, all the while protecting workers as best as can be expected. The measures include personal protective equipment, dividers at work stations, physical distancing measures, and perhaps more importantly, a screening protocol for entry into plants and other workplaces.

Given that widespread, rapid COVID-19 testing remain elusive, the automaker plans to ask questions about workers’ health upon their arrival, with a thermal scanner judging the employee’s temperature. If either turns up something suspect, the worker will be ushered off the property and into a testing lab at a local hospital for diagnosis.

Ford HR boss Kiersten Robinson said during the briefing that Ford “will not have a reliable or scalable testing solution for some time,” adding that, while the company would love to fast-track a solution, it knows that such a solution just isn’t available at this time. Ford’s not at all alone in this camp.

“The UAW is asking for as much testing as is possible to prevent exposure to the virus,” Gamble said. “That said, we also understand that the availability and accuracy of tests are fluid, developing issues as we navigate this crisis. Our position is that we employ as much testing as is possible at the current time and commit to full testing as soon as it is available. We are also strongly advocating self-reporting and testing for those exposed to the virus or exhibiting symptoms at a minimum, and a stringent adherence to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.”

Gamble’s statement makes it seem as though Ford and the UAW are pretty much of the same mindset. Still, any return to work by any of the Detroit Three automakers needs UAW approval; the union was the reason for Fiat Chrysler delaying its production restart. Rumors persist of a May 18th restart by all three companies that hinges on both the state of Michigan’s health measures and the UAW’s acceptance of “good enough.”

For now, though, the restart remains in limbo.

“At the present time there is no restart date,” Gamble said.

[Image: General Motors]

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