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Unifor, Detroit 3 form coronavirus task force

John Irwin, Greg Layson; Automotive News – March 18, 2020

The Detroit Three and Unifor said late Tuesday they are forming a joint task force to implement enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse employees at all three companies during the global coronavirus pandemic.

It's similar to the task force created by the automakers and the United Auto Workers union in the United States.

The announcement came just hours after Unifor Local 88 called for a two-week shutdown of General Motors' CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont., where members assemble the Chevrolet Equinox. Local 88 Unit 1 chairperson Mike Van Boekel told Automotive News Canada that he called on GM to put the roughly 2,500 workers at the CAMI plant on layoff beginning March 23 for a minimum of two weeks.

"This may be the first time any union official has asked for a layoff of their entire membership, but these are not normal times," Van Boekel said. Last week, members of Unifor Local 444 in Windsor, Ont., refused to work at FCA's minivan plant there after it became aware one of its members had come into what the company called "secondary contact" with a person who was being tested for COVID-19.

The task force consists of:

Jerry Dias, president, Unifor
Scott Bell, president and managing director, GM Canada
Dean Stoneley, president and CEO, Ford of Canada
David Buckingham, chairman, president and CEO, FCA Canada

In a joint news release, the automakers said that preventative actions currently under review at the three companies' Canadian auto facilities include visitor screening, increased cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and touch points, safety protocols for people with potential exposure and those who exhibit flu-like symptoms.

"The task force members today discussed progress with additional safety practices and actions including break and cleaning schedules, health and safety education, health screening, food service and any other areas designed to improve protections for employees," GM Canada said in the statement. "Unifor and the three Canadian automakers are in continuous communication at the national and plant levels to ensure they take appropriate actions and continue to follow the advice of medical staff and experts to help keep workers and their families protected from the COVID-19 virus. They are also maintaining ongoing communication with government and health officials at all levels."

Van Boekel declined to comment on the task force, but said he still wants GM Canada to shut down the Ingersoll plant. The local's call for a two-week layoff came as automakers and suppliers prepared for the fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic, which is expected to lead to a downturn in new-vehicle sales as people are forced to stay home or are at risk of losing their jobs.

“Everyone is likely very aware that vehicle sales across North America are likely slowing down tremendously during this period and I believe this may cause down weeks in the future once the field stock builds up,” Van Boekel wrote in a letter to General Motors Canada on March 15.

According to Van Boekel's letter, there were two employees in self-quarantine as of Sunday. He said GM has paid those workers full wages and has acted "in good faith" on the issue. Asked today if that figure has changed, he said it was be difficult to say as workers and their families return from travel and are asked to stay home.

"It’s time to get home now, so most are getting home," he said.

GM Canada says it has taken safety precautions at its Ontario facilities.

"These include an ongoing focus on production plans, break and cleaning schedules, social distancing, health and safety education, health screening, food service and any other areas that have the potential to improve protections for employees," GM Canada’s Jennifer Wright said previously.

News Update
female members protesting

An update from Unifor Local 584