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GM, Ford to temporarily close plants

General Motors and Ford Motor Co. will close their North American auto manufacturing plants through March 30.

The decision has a big impact locally. General Motors' two area plants, in the Town of Tonawanda and Lockport, have a combined 2,900 hourly and salaried workers. Ford Motor Co.'s stamped parts plant in Hamburg has about 1,100 hourly and salaried workers. They are among the region's largest manufacturing operations.

The other member of the Detroit Three, Fiat Chrysler, will also close its North American plants for the same time period.

The United Auto Workers union had been pushing since Sunday for the temporary shutdown of the Detroit Three plants, to protect workers' safety amid the coronavirus outbreak. The automakers didn't agree to that step until Wednesday.

Ford Motor Co. said it will halt production at its plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico after Thursday evening's shifts, in order to thoroughly clean and sanitize the plants, the automaker said.

GM said it would suspend its plants' operations "in a cadence, with each facility receiving specific instructions from manufacturing leadership." Production status will re-evaluated on a week-to-week basis after March 30.

The Tonawanda engine plant and Lockport components plant are "modifying their production schedules effective immediately; further details on the individual plant shut down dates will be determined," according to GM.

“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,” said GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra.

"Employees will be compensated," said Patrick Morrissey, a GM spokesman. "The specific details are being worked out with the UAW."

Meanwhile, at Ford, U.S. employees represented by the UAW who have more than one year of seniority will receive about 75% of their pay through a combination of unemployment and supplemental unemployment benefits, said Kelli Felker, a Ford spokeswoman. Temporary employees and employees with less than one year of seniority will be eligible for unemployment.

Officials with the automakers pledged to work with the UAW on next steps.

“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.”

"UAW members, their families and our communities will benefit from today’s announcement with the certainty that we are doing all that we can to protect our health and safety during this pandemic,” said Rory Gamble, UAW's president.

UAW and Ford leaders will work together in the coming weeks on plant restart plans as well as exploring additional protocols and procedures for helping prevent the spread of the virus.

Ford said that chief among its concerns is "finding ways to maximize social distancing among plant workers – both during work hours and at shift change, when large numbers of people typically gather at entry and exit points and maximizing cleaning times between shift changes."

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