DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. recalled a skeleton crew of workers Monday to start preparing its factories for reopening, even as UAW members express anxiety about their safety amid a pandemic.
Its plants, along with all Detroit Three assembly lines, have been shut down since late-March to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19.
“We are asking a small number of hourly and salaried workers to return to work this week in preparation for a restart at a future date, which has not yet been determined. These workers will begin putting safety protocols in place that we will use when we do reopen our facilities,” said Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and communications manager.
The callbacks have a “volunteer” status, which means workers are paid if they choose to work but they are not required to work. Ford declined to specify which sites are calling back workers.
A UAW member who paints F-150 pickups at the Dearborn Truck Plant and who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak publicly told the Free Press: “A big point of concern is the nature of the coronavirus, and its propensity to be highly contagious for up to two weeks before any symptoms show. Many people in a production facility could become infected by this virus before the first person began to show symptoms.”
Plant shifts may include hundreds or thousands of workers — depending on whether they’re in the paint plant, body shop, stamping plant or final assembly, he explained.
The F-150 pickup is Ford’s most profitable product, the worker noted proudly.
“Supporting the voracious demand for this vehicle requires almost nonstop production, spread across the three crews, which work seven days a week,” the UAW worker said. “You are on your feet and hustling, working with and among a group of people all trying to do their jobs in the minimal amount of time allotted, without stopping the line or missing part of your job.
“All of the jobs have been packed with tasks, to reduce the number of employees to the minimum, all while maximizing the speed of the production line. It is a frenetic pace, and can be exhausting work, depending on the job.”
Concern about returning to the plant is not about an unwillingness to work, the paint shop worker said.
“There are several specific areas of concern; the close proximity of workers, which preclude any possibility of ‘social distancing,’ the use of shared tools, common gathering areas used for lunch and or breaks, long shifts which equate to longer terms of exposure, and the sheer number of people within the plants, especially Final Assembly.”
Ford has established new safety protocols for workers entering the plants Monday.
• Before workers enter the plant, they will have to do a daily health and wellness self certification to make sure they’re not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms and they have not been directly exposed to someone who is known to have the illness.
• Workers will go through a no-contact temperature screening. The details will be different for each plant. Where workers are making medical personal protection equipment now, they go through a “thermal scanner,” like a camera that takes a thermal picture. If an employee is too warm, they will not be allowed to enter the workplace. If someone is turned away from work, they will be required to see their personal care physician to be cleared to return.
• Everybody will be required to wear a face mask, which will be provided by Ford in the plants.
• If a job does not allow for social distancing, the worker will be required to wear a face shield or safety goggles in addition to the face mask.
Automakers say they have no intention of jeopardizing worker safety.
“Ford and the UAW continue working closely on initiatives to keep our workforce safe when we do restart our plants. We will share more information at a future time,” Felker said.
She emphasized, “If you report that Ford is planning to reopen its plants on May 11, you will not be accurate.”