DETROIT (CN) — The Big Three Detroit automakers agreed Wednesday to close all their U.S. production plants through March 30 in an effort to curb the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
The United Auto Workers union had previously called for a total shutdown but negotiated with auto company officials overnight to find a common ground that would not cause a cease of operations. However, with the skyrocketing number of confirmed cases nationwide and growing concern from employees about a clean workplace, a halt became inevitable.
“We’re continuing to work closely with union leaders, especially the United Auto Workers, to find ways to help keep our workforce healthy and safe – even as we look at solutions for continuing to provide the vehicles customers really want and need,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of North America. “In these unprecedented times, we’re exploring unique and creative solutions to support our workforce, customers, dealers, suppliers and communities.”
GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement that “recent developments in North America make it clear this is the right thing to do now.”
“GM and the UAW have always put the health and safety of the people entering GM plants first, and we have agreed to a systematic, orderly suspension of production to aid in fighting COVID-19/coronavirus,” she said.
Barra will help lead a new task force that includes Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett, UAW President Rory Gamble and Fiat Chrysler CEO Michael Manley, who hope to install more comprehensive protections for workers against the deadly virus.
Gamble, the union president, also applauded the production shutdown.
“We have time to review best practices when the plants reopen, and we prevent the possible spread of this pandemic. We commend Ford for working with us and taking this bold step,” he said in a statement.
The coronavirus infiltrated certain U.S. factories in recent days with reports that Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler workers have contracted the rapidly spreading disease, which has infected over 7,000 Americans as of Wednesday afternoon.
Ford also announced a shutdown of European operations starting on Thursday for at least several weeks and Fiat-Chrysler closed its European plants until March 27.
While the infected Ford worker had limited contact with fellow employees, the person infected at GM’s Cole Engineering Center had multiple interactions with colleagues.
UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement that the union’s thoughts are with the GM worker and their family, friends and co-workers.
“It is important that our members are quarantined in accordance with U.S. Government Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines,” he said. “The UAW is working with GM to inform any members who should be in quarantine.”