DETROIT (AP) – Michigan’s worst COVID-19 outbreak begins to slow automobile production. The Ram pickup truck factory is increasing its production due to the large number of missing workers.
At the Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) assembly plant in Sterling Heights, North Detroit, about 10% of the workforce is either positive or quarantined. That equates to about 600 employees, says the person who asked not to be identified, as neither the company nor the United Automobile Workers’ Union provided details.
The 5 million-square-foot factory has about 7,450 hourly workers, but not all of them are in assembly lines. In an attempt to contain the shortage, the company fired workers from a nearby pickup factory in Warren, Michigan, which was forced to shut down due to a global shortage of semiconductors.
But because those workers need to be trained to build new Ram pickups, the assembly line is moving slower than usual, says a man who did not know how much production was lost.
As for weeks, Michigan continues to suffer from the highest seven-day case in the country, at 538 per 100,000 population, according to the federal government.
The UAW has confirmed that cases are on the rise in Sterling. Many of the absent workers did not test positive, but either waited for tests or were isolated due to close contact with other people with the virus.
“While the numbers are shifting, we can say that there has been a recent increase in the number of cases, as in all of Michigan,” said Cindy Estrada, UAW’s vice president for Stellantis.
He urged employees to be careful “to keep the plants safe for our UAW members and families.”
Stellantis also did not provide figures, but confirmed that employees were positive about the coronavirus as the incidence in Michigan increased.
The company said in a statement that steps were being taken to keep factory workers safe and called for vaccinations.
“We continue to be aggressive, following the guidelines offered for contact seeking,” the statement said. “We also continue to strongly encourage our employees to follow the same health and safety measures whenever they are there.”
The Ram pickup, the third most popular car in the United States, is a powerful driver of profit for the Stellantis. Last year, the company sold 563,000 trucks.
Stellantis rivals Ford and General Motors have each said they have not lost any production in recent weeks due to viral illnesses.
Bloomberg News was the first to report on the slowdown in production of Sterling Heights on Friday.
David Egert contributed to this report from Lansing, Michigan.