GE Haier announced Tuesday night that it’s shutting down some production at Appliance Park this week through April 3 in the wake of calls by union leaders to close the facility.
The company said normal operations will end after second shift on Thursday. Starting with first shift Friday through April 3, the company will reduce shifts or temporarily suspend operations at four buildings at the manufacturing complex.
The company also announced it’s halting production at its Selmer, Tennessee Monogram facility and moving to one line per shift at its operations in Lafayette, Georgia, and Decatur, Alabama.
“Our distribution centers remain operational to provide parts and inventory to our customers. We will continue delivery and service of appliances while taking precautionary measures to protect our employees and consumers while providing these critical services,” according to a company release late Tuesday afternoon.
The moves for GE come as union workers at Ford Motor’s two Louisville plants also are pushing the automaker to consider a temporary shutdown amid rising fears that the virus could spread. Hourly employees have also complained to union leaders that with children off school, they don’t have a way to care for their families while being told to keep coming to work.
Louisville GE union president Dino Driskell told workers in a letter earlier Tuesday that he had asked the company to cease production over the next few weeks and for Gov. Andy Beshear’s office to intervene in temporarily shutting down the plant.
The local represents about 4,000 hourly workers, most of them assigned to assembly lines for washers, dryers, stoves, ovens and refrigerators.
“I am having a difficult time comprehending how it is important enough to shut down schools, childcare facilities, churches, bars, restaurants, office workers, etc. to help maintain “Social Distancing” and limit the spread of the virus,” Driskell wrote. “Yet the health and welfare of our members who are assembly line production workers in close proximity is not deemed a risk to spread the virus.”
GE spokeswoman Julie Wood sent a statement earlier Tuesday explaining that the company was taking steps to safeguard employees by asking those who could work remotely to stay home. The company also increased cleaning and sanitization efforts in the plants, she said.
The schedule at GE will vary depending on the factory building. Starting with first shift Friday through April 3, GE will reduce shifts to operate one washer line and one dryer line on day shift at AP1. It will also operate one line on day shift at AP3, where dishwashers are assembled.
“Reduced operations to support ongoing manufacturing” will be conducted at AP4, which handles plastics. Production will halt completely on the refrigeration line at AP5, according to the statement.
Autoworkers in Louisville and other states also have been pushing for similar measures from Ford. In a letter to the company last weekend, UAW Local 862 building chairman Herb Hibbs asked that the facility shut down for two weeks to protect workers.
“I do not want to wait to see if we have a case here at the plant before we react,” Hibbs wrote. “I would like to see Ford Motor Co. be proactive instead of reactive.”
And at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant, Allen Hughes, the building chairman there, asked that “anyone that has missed work due to upper respiratory illness or childcare issues” not be disciplined for unexcused absences. He said that the plant’s management had not agreed to it.
Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862, which represents more than 14,300 hourly workers between both Kentucky factories, said he supports the push for a two-week shutdown, but he’s concerned about whether new members and temporary workers will be eligible for unemployment and other benefits.
“My concern is that we look at every single option on the table,” Dunn said. “I don’t want a member to get sick (with COVID-19). I can’t put them in harm’s way.”
A Ford spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment. The Detroit Free Press, a sister publication to The Courier Journal, reported that Ford and UAW’s International leaders met late Tuesday to discuss a path forward.
Reports out of Michigan indicated that after that meeting in Detroit, Ford and the UAW agreed not to shut down any factories. Instead, reports said, the parties agreed to “rotating partial shutdown of facilities, extensive deep cleaning of facility and equipment between shifts, extended periods between shifts, and extensive plans to avoid member contact.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out guidelines advising people to avoid congregating in groups of 50 or more to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The local UAW’s requests mirror similar requests on the national level, as the union wants Detroit’s three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler — to shut down their factories for two weeks.
But UAW President Rory Gamble said in an email to members that the companies were not willing to stop production. Gamble said the union gave the three companies two days to put together plans to safeguard workers — and that period ends Tuesday afternoon. Courier Journal