U.S. Automakers General Motors & Ford Instruct Employees to Work From Home Beginning Next Week Due to the Coronavirus
The Coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt businesses around the world. Companies in the U.S. and Europe are instructing their employees to work from home to help prevent the spread of the virus. Google for example, instructed all of its110,000 workers in North America to stay at home until April 10. Now the work from home directive is extending to U.S. automakers.
On Friday, U.S. automakers General Motors and Ford Motor Co said they will have most of their white-collar workforce working remotely as of Monday to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. However this doesn't include assembly line workers that build vehicles and some of them are concerned about catching the virus.
Workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) stopped working this week at the company's minivan assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario, a spokeswoman said to Reuters. The employees were concerned about possible exposure to the virus through secondary contact. After determining that there was no risk of secondary contamination the workers returned to work Friday afternoon after about 24 hours, a spokeswoman said.
FCA is also instructing some of its white-collar employees to work remotely, CEO Mike Manley said in a letter to employees seen by Reuters on Friday. FCA said this week it was temporarily halting operations at some Italian plants and would reduce production rates in response to the outbreak.
On Thursday, FCA said an employee at its Indiana transmission plant had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, but he was being treated and the plant was still operating while anyone exposed to that worker was quarantined.
GM Chief Executive Mary Barra told employees on Friday the No. 1 automaker is asking all employees and contract workers to work remotely, noting the company has faced crises before, which was recently.
Nearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers had walked off the job across in the U.S. on Sept. 16, 2019 when the union declared a nationwide strike against General Motors. The strike was over wages, health care benefits and profit sharing. The 40-day strike disrupted the company's vehicle production, as 34 assembly plants were essentially shut down.
"For many of us, it's our first experience of this type. But disruption and trying circumstances are not new to us," Barra said in an email.
Barra said the remote-work policy applied globally apart from China, which has existing protocols in place. "Our IT tools and systems have been extensively stress-tested; it's vital that we leverage them to continue delivering," she said.
Ford will shift most of its global white-collar workforce outside China, where recovery has already begun, to working remotely, CEO James Hackett said in an email to employees.
"In recent days ... we've concluded the coronavirus issue has taken on a different dimension – and we need to be proactive to keep our people safe and help limit the spread of the virus in the communities where we live and work," Hackett said in a statement.
Ford's Hackett told employees that in the event a worker tests positive for the virus they will be told to get medical attention and self quarantine at home. He added that Ford will close any facility exposed to a confirmed case, including manufacturing plants.
However, Ford has seen "limited" impact to its global operations due to the epidemic, with some employees testing positive for the virus in China and Germany but none so far in the United States, Ford spokesman Mark Truby said to Reuters.
Ford has not lost any vehicle production outside of China and the company is taking steps to keep its plants operational, he said. However, some parts of the U.S. market have seen customer traffic at dealers hurt by the outbreak, he added.
In Wuhan China, where the virus is thought to have originated, production at Chinese auto plants came to a virtual standstill. The region is a manufacturing center for China's auto industry. To make matters worse, consumers stayed away from auto dealerships as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, resulting in the biggest drop in auto sales ever in China. During the month of February, auto sales in China 71.9%.
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