Detroit’s United Auto Workers union (UAW) has warned against restarting US car production during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming there is not enough evidence to ensure worker safety and that face masks may be ineffective.
According to news agency Reuters, brands General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Toyota and Honda were poised to recommence vehicle manufacturing in the region as soon as May 4, however that date has since been rescinded following a UAW statement last week claiming the restart is premature and urging the brands to reconsider.
“The UAW does not believe the scientific data [on COVID-19] is conclusive that it is safe to have our members back in the workplace,” a union spokesperson said.
“We strongly suggest to our companies in all sectors that an early May date is too soon and too risky to our members, their families and their communities ... We have not done enough testing to really understand the threat our members face.”
Earlier this month, General Motors and Ford said they would resume production with safety protocols learnt during their production of medical equipment for the healthcare system during COVID-19.
“We know the protocols to keep people safe,” GM’s executive vice president for global manufacturing said at the time.
Other car and parts producers in the US also stated the use of masks and gloves, temperature screening, a spacing of 0.9-1.8m between workers and a daily health questionnaire would be sufficient to resume production, however new statements from the UAW’s health advisors have cast doubt on the procedures’ efficacy.
“We always put protective equipment last (as an option),” UAW medical advisor – and University of Michigan associate professor of environmental health sciences – Rick Neitzel told Reuters.
“Not because [PPE] is 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.”
“If we have three people inside a car trying to get a door on, that’s a very dense workplace. Just giving them PPE is not going to cut it,” Neitzel added.
Dialogue between the union and car brands in the US continues, with Reuters saying temperature screening at factory entrances, placing curtains or plastic between workers, and allowing staff to volunteer themselves for quarantine without losing pay are all being discussed.
Carmakers around the world have pushed to resume production, with plants in Europe recommencing operation as early as April 20.
Last month, German brand Volkswagen claimed it was spending AU$3.6 billion per week during coronavirus despite having suspended its European production.
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