May 18 (UPI) — U.S. automakers reopened dozens of plants across the United States Monday for the first time in nearly two months in a major test of how well the American economy can rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.
General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler each resumed production at plants in Detroit; Chicago; Toledo, Ohio; Louisville, Ky.; and Kansas City under an agreement reached with the United Auto Workers.
Thousands of workers returned to factories outfitted with new health and safety protocols that have already been implemented at plants in China and Europe.
How well the new measures can prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be closely watched as an indicator of how other sectors of the economy may fare as pandemic restrictions are loosened nationwide.
After workers expressed concern about returning to assembly plants too soon, the union offered assurance it will keep close watch on conditions.
“The UAW will continue to do everything we can to protect the health and safety of all members as plants reopen,” union president Rory Gamble said. “And we will continue to advocate for as much testing as possible and full testing as it becomes available.”
The automakers are anxious to restart production as U.S. production of vehicles and parts fell by more than 70 percent in April, according to the U.S. Federal Reserve. The industry has yet to ask Congress for emergency aid, and automakers say they have enough cash reserves and credit lines to avoid bankruptcy.
Parts manufacturers and suppliers, however, are not as well positioned. Any delays or disruptions in the supply chain that spans Canada, the United States and Mexico could mean insolvency for some, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association warned.
“The time to act is now, before it is too late,” the group said last week after Michigan lawmakers sought federal support for the industry. “Our members report that many suppliers are close to insolvency.”