Metro Detroit’s Big Three automakers restart production after being shut down for months

Workers return with COVID-19 precautions

DETROIT – Metro Detroit’s Big Three automakers -- General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler -- have restarted production after being shut down for nearly two months because of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Operations won’t go on as usual, though, as all three have implemented new safety protocols.

Many changes began popping up in auto plants last week.

FCA officials showed Local 4 the work being done inside the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“They’ve modified stations,” FCA North America COO Mark Stewart said. “(We’re) making sure we’re absolutely ready to go.”

It’s clear the steps you’d assume to be there certainly are -- temperature checks, hand sanitizing stations, self-reporting questionnaires, staggered start times, socially distanced break rooms and more.

Officials in the Big Three have made it clear the No. 1 line of defense is personal protective equipment -- masks, shields and eye protection.

“That mask should be containing everything so that nobody else can be breathing it in,” said Dr. Jeff Hess, General Motors’ medical director.

One of the key concerns from workers is large fans blowing in their faces inside hot plants.

Hess said the fans have been moved, but they’re necessary for air circulation.

“You don’t want it blowing in your face, but the air movement (is critical) so the virus isn’t sitting in an area for awhile,” Hess said.

Local 4 spoke with current and retired workers to see if they feel safe going back to work.

“I don’t think we’re ready yet,” said Vern Rottman, of Warren. “If they would have said July 1, I would have been a lot more amenable to starting at that point in time.”

“It’s a confined space (with) a lot of people,” another worker said. “I don’t want anybody to get sick. That’s what I’m worried about.”

Ford is using technology to keep workers safe, having them wear watches that vibrate when they get too close to each other.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett said the last couple of months have convinced him a reopening can be done safely.

“In the nine, almost 10 weeks, no one came down with the virus working close to each other,” Hackett said on the TODAY Show. “Plus, we’ve had experience in Europe now, in Thailand, and of course, already in China. We’ve not had one instance where the factor had a virus issue, so there’s some news here that says if we take these steps, we can keep the place safe.”

About the Authors:

Nick joined the Local 4 team in February of 2015. Prior to that he spent 6 years in Sacramento covering a long list of big stories including wildfires and earthquakes. Raised in Sterling Heights, he is no stranger to the deep history and pride Detroit has to offer.

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.