Early last week, Ford’s plans to restart manufacturing seemed to be coming into focus. A reboot in Chinese production already took place in March and European plants came back online on May 4th. In the U.S., a small group of workers are currently in the process of helping to get U.S. assembly lines ready, with Ford reportedly hoping to bring production back online on May 18th. To that end, The Blue Oval has outlined a long list of new safety protocols intended to protect its workers from COVID-19, including a pre-work questionnaire, the use of body temperature scans, and the mandatory use of masks and face shields. But the UAW union (United Auto Workers) and a pair of health experts aren’t convinced that these steps will be enough to prevent employees from contracting the virus in plants.
“We always put protective equipment last (on the list of options),” said Rick Neitzel, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan. “Not because it’s ineffective, but by the time you get down to that level you’re relying on the worker to understand how and when and where to use that protective equipment.”
The UAW has sought advice from both Neitzel and Marisa Eisenberg, a University of Michigan associate professor of epidemiology, who are both part of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s task force on economic recovery, as it negotiates the reopening of assembly plants. UAW President Rory Gamble previously stated that he believed restarting production in early May was “too soon and too risky.”
Regardless, news of Ford’s plan to reopen its U.S. based plants on May 18th was reportedly agreed upon after meeting with the Whitmer and the UAW. Whitmer’s task force is working on developing a list of best practices for all Michigan-based manufacturers that includes a series of measures including separating workers, staggering shifts, and increasing ventilation within the plants.
If the May 18th reopening date holds true, it still gives everyone time to hammer out the details. And we’re certain that all three parties will ultimately do whatever is in the best interest of keeping workers safe while also allowing automakers to resume production, at least in some capacity. Ford, however, has yet to confirm the May 18th date, with executives refusing to provide a concrete target for restarting manufacturing operations.