Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday stated the state’s factories can resume on May 11, removing one of the last significant obstacles to North American automakers bringing thousands of laid-off workers back to work while the coronavirus continues to spread.
While resume the manufacturing sector, Whitmer also extended her state’s stay-at-home order by about two weeks to May 28, by mentioning a desire to avoid a second wave of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by Covid-19 coronavirus.
“It’s a major step forward … to re-engage our economy safely and responsibly,” Whitmer said at a news conference. “Manufacturing is an important part of our economy.”
This week, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) had said they were thinking about restarting vehicle production in North America on May 18, but providers would need time to prepare before that date. Ford Motor stated Thursday it is targeting 18 May as well.
The governor extended the state’s coronavirus stay-at-home order before through May 15, but had lifted restrictions for some businesses. Neighboring Ohio had permitted manufacturing to restart on Monday, putting pressure on Whitmer to allow manufacturing as well.
Michigan’s shutdown had hindered the efforts by the automakers to restart vehicle assembly anywhere in the the country, because many critical parts suppliers are based in the state.
Last week when detailing the safety measures it will institute, Ford highlighted that the auto sector represents 6% of U.S. economic output. More than 835,000 U.S. workers are hired in auto manufacturing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Automakers and their providers already have started gearing up for a possible resumption of work at their U.S. plants, but required the official permission from Whitmer.
Industry officials had been pressing Whitmer to permit suppliers to reopen starting May 11 so the automakers could restart operations on their target date. They also wanted the approval so they can press Mexico to open its auto sector as suppliers there are also important for the industry restart.
If Mexico does not allow suppliers to resume production, then automakers will not be able to resume most U.S. production for more than a few days, auto executives stated.
Ford stated on Thursday it was intending to resume work at most of its North American plants on May 18 with less than normal production rate, while parts distribution centers restart on May 11 and parts plants operate as required to support the plan. On Wednesday, General Motors said it was intending to resume its North American plants on May 18, the day after rival FCA revealed the same target.
The automakers’ plans were tacitly approved this week by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which represents the Detroit automakers’ hourly plant workers. The union had earlier stated that early May was “too soon and too risky” to resume manufacturing.
Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk stated in a podcast interview described states’ lockdown orders as “unconstitutional” and would not hold up before the U.S. Supreme Court if challenged. Last week, he called such restrictions “fascist”.
According to Whitmer’s new order, factories must adopt measures to protect employees, including daily entry screening, no-touch temperature screening as soon as possible and use of protective gear such as face masks. Automakers have already implemented such policies.
As of now, Michigan has over 45646 cases of coronavirus and 4,343 deaths, but state officials have said the rate of infection has reduced. Overall, coronavirus has infected more than 1,289,235 people in the US and killed 76,537.