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March 18, 2020 10:30 AM, EDT

Detroit Automakers Agree to Rotating Partial Shutdown of Plants

A Ford F-150 truck moves through the inspection area in November 2014.A Ford F-150 truck moves through the inspection area on the production line at the company's Dearborn Truck Assembly facility in November 2014. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News)

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General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will partially shut down their U.S. plants on a rotating basis in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The measures announced by the United Auto Workers March 17 followed meetings the union held to protect their members from COVID-19, which was officially deemed a pandemic last week. The UAW said earlier the companies had resisted a request the union made on Sunday to idle their U.S. operations for two weeks.

Car manufacturing has virtually ground to a halt in Europe this week after the coronavirus earlier disrupted output in countries including China, South Korea and Japan. Shutdowns by the likes of Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and Renault SA span the continent, with several companies choosing to idle production until further notice rather than publicly announce plans for when assembly lines will roll again.

But interruptions at U.S. auto factories have been limited thus far, with Ford announcing March 17 that a parts shortage would temporarily idle its Explorer sport utility vehicle plant in Chicago. Fiat Chrysler confirmed a second case of a worker testing positive for the virus — the latest being at a Ram pickup plant in Michigan — after disclosing one last week at a transmission plant in Indiana that kept operating.

UAW President Rory Gamble told members earlier Tuesday that the union gave the three Detroit carmakers a 48-hour deadline to develop plans to safeguard workers.

“These companies will be put on notice that the UAW will use any and all measures to protect our brothers and sisters who are working in their facilities,” Gamble said before the meeting. “And make no mistake, we have powerful allies who have stepped up to help us.”

He said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell were “instrumental” in bringing Detroit automakers to the table Sunday to form a task force with CEOs of GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler. The group vowed to enhance worker protections by more strictly screening factory visitors and cleaning common areas more regularly.

Gabriella Coppola, David Welch and Keith Naughton contributed to this report.

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