Windsor Assembly Plant workers back in the factory, as auto companies reopen

Workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobile's Windsor Assembly Plant are back at work Tuesday, after a forced shutdown in March due to COVID-19.

Autoworkers enter the factory for the first time since shutdown in March

Union officials for autoworkers at the Windsor Assembly Plant say screening measures will be in place before employees enter the factory. (Bob Becken/CBC)

Workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobile's Windsor Assembly Plant are back at work Tuesday, after a forced shutdown in March due to COVID-19. 

Ford and GM also opened operations on May 19 in Canada — with Ford in Windsor looking to produce about one million masks for health-care workers per month for a period of one year. 

Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor — the union that represents many of the auto workers — said safety is the number one priority and that many new measures were implemented for the factory's restart. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Windsor Assembly Plant workers line up outside the factory on Tuesday, May 19 at a COVID-19 screening tent. The factory reopened after a shutdown in March due to the disease. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

New safety features include a pre-screening area where temperatures will be taken before workers enter the plant, an app monitoring workers' health, leaders to ensure physical distancing standards are met, cleaning, disinfecting especially in high-touch areas, mandatory masks, lines on the floor directing traffic, as well as staggered breaks and lunches with limited seating.

The factory — which at one point was slated to open May 4 — has set up tents outside of entry gates where employees will be screened before entering. 

Head of human resources for FCA Canada, Jacqueline Oliva, said the morning went smoothly as workers adjusted to the "new normal" of COVID-19 screening before entering the Windsor Assembly Plant. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Head of human resources for FCA Canada, Jacqueline Oliva, was on site for the reopening as about 2,000 employees filed in for work.

Oliva said employees enter one of the screening tents, fill out a health questionnaire either on paper or using the mobile app, sanitize their hands, are given a face mask, and enter a trailer to have thermal scanning before getting safety glasses and finally entering the factory. 

"Once you clear through the screening process you're given a small ticket which  means you've completed the process and can enter the facility," said Oliva. "We process pretty much everybody."

She had been there most of the morning, and no one had been turned away due to health concerns, said Oliva. 

"This will just become the way that we have to do things now," she said. "This is the new normal — the start of every shift."

WATCH | Daily employee screening at FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant:

Daily employee screening at FCA's Windsor Assembly Plant

2 years ago
FCA Canada's head of Human Resources Jacqueline Oliva walks through the daily screening of auto employees at FCA's Windsor's Assembly Plant. 1:33

While speaking with CBC News, Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said there are employees who were anxious about returning to the factory. Nonetheless, he said a number of other employees have reached out to tell him they're glad to be back at work. 

At the same time, Cassidy said employees have expressed concerns about wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) while working, especially as the weather continues to warm up.

"Obviously having to wear masks and glasses are posiing a lot of questions, as to the heat and being able to work in that environment," he said, adding that windows were opened in the factory to "get some air flowing through there."

"We're pushing the agenda to get these fans on inside the facility, which will help alleviate a lot of the heat issues."

Cassidy reiterated that all employees are supposed to wear PPE at all times, outside of instances like eating or drinking. 

"They are social distancing them apart, so that everybody is safe inside there," he said.

Dave Cassidy, president of Unifor Local 444, says he's heard from employees anxious about returning to work, as well as those looking forward to returning to the Windsor Assmebly Plant. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

According to Cassidy, the first and third shifts will be running next week, with second shift workers placed on layoff. 

"The same amount that's on the day shift today will be the same that'll be on day shift next week," he said. "I'm glad that the company is not going to have people crossing paths when they go in and out."

The Unifor leader also briefly touched on the subject of child-care services for returning employees, saying that he disagreed with the Ontario government's decision on Tuesday to close schools until September

Employees inside the Windsor Assembly Plant wearing protective face masks, as a means of preventing the spread of COVID-19 (Submitted by FCA Canada)

"It does obviously put a problem with some of our people and anybody," Cassidy said. "It's not just FCA. It's the economy. I think that personally the children should be going back to school. There are safety measures that could be put in place around that."

Cassidy wasn't sure how many Windsor Assembly Plant employees will be affected by the extended school closures, saying that it will "be an issue for child care with a lot of our members."

"If the daycares aren't allowed to open, that becomes a big problem as well."

Employees at the FCA Canada Windsor Assembly Plant holding a conversation while separated by protective screens. (Submitted by FCA Canada)

The Windsor Assembly Plant's reopening came one day after U.S. automakers were back online, due to the Victoria Day holiday on Monday. 

Detroit's Big Three — Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford — as well as Honda and Toyota all had screening procedures in place at dozens of factories that opened from the Great Lakes states south to Tennessee and Texas and out west at Tesla's factory near the San Francisco Bay.

With files from Kaitie Fraser, Stacey Janzer and the Associated Press


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