Ford Motor steps up campaign to convince union workers to restart U.S. output

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DETROIT (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co (F.N) on Thursday outlined the safety measures it will institute to restart its most profitable U.S. plants amid the coronavirus pandemic, expanding on similar efforts by General Motors Co (GM.N) and Fiat Chrysler (FCHA.MI)(FCAU.N) to convince leaders of the United Auto Workers union to send members back to work.

FILE PHOTO: 2018 F150 pick-up trucks move down the assembly line during the 100 year celebration of the Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan U.S. September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

The UAW so far has not agreed to endorse reopening U.S. auto plants, even as workers in Europe and Asia are going back to their jobs. Virtually all U.S. automotive production ground to a halt in March as the number of COVID-19 infections grew rapidly.

Convincing the UAW and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer that it is safe to return to work will be key to reopening plants that are critical for the profitability of Ford and its U.S. rivals. Ford has the largest unionized workforce in the United States with about 56,000 UAW members.

“It’s just really now getting the clarity from our government leaders because we’re ready,” Ford Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley said on a conference call with reporters.

“We want to restart as soon as we can and do it safely,” he added, citing the auto industry’s importance to the U.S. economy with the sector accounting for 6% of U.S. economic output.

Farley added he would “absolutely” be comfortable having his family work in a Ford plant given the steps the company has taken to ensure employee safety.

Among Ford’s measures in the plants are no-touch doors, use of personal protective equipment like face masks and shields, installation of barriers where employees must work closely together, thermal scanning for employee temperatures and heavy sanitizing.

Ford executives said they have been using the same safety protocols already in China, where production restarted in late February.

Ford’s human resources chief Kiersten Robinson said the automaker will not have a “reliable and scalable testing solution” for COVID-19 for several weeks if not months and the company was forming a task force to see how it can move faster to achieve that.

“Longer term, we think it will be critical,” she said. “Hopefully, in coming weeks or months, it will be part of our protocol.”

Ford manufacturing chief Gary Johnson said any worker who worried they had been exposed would be sent to a hospital for testing and the UAW had agreed to that process.

Johnson also said Ford could not restart its North American plants until Michigan had reopened the manufacturing sector in that state.

Reporting by Ben Klayman; Additional reporting by Joseph White and Nick Carey in Detroit and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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