Ford Motor Company’s Chicago Assembly Plant on the city’s Southeast Side could reopen as soon as May 4, according to an autoworkers union official.
“Everything’s subject to change, and right now we’re going in negotiations with the company on how the rollout plan’s going to work with PPE (personal protective equipment) and testing people, and slowly integrating our workers back into the workplace in certain phases,” said Chris Pena, president of UAW Local 551, which represents workers at the plant.
Located in the Hegewisch neighborhood, the plant employs close to 6,000 people, most of them hourly workers. It closed in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pena says the union is still weighing several factors in negotiations with Ford management before they decide if it’s safe for employees to get back to work.
“We can’t have people that have symptoms going back in the workplace and effecting everyone that they work with, let alone possibly getting sick and then bringing it back to their family members,” Pena said. “Also, the schools are still closed for the rest of the year. Our members don’t really have places readily available for them to take care of their kids right now.”
One of those members is Marcie Pedraza, an electrician at the plant. She says May 4 is much too soon for workers to return.
“Most of us have kids at home, they don’t have school anymore. I for one don’t have anyone to take care of my child, because if I’m going to work everyday, they’re not going to want me to keep coming and picking her up because they’re worried about what if I’m sick, and I’m bringing it to her, and whoever’s watching her,” Pedraza said.
Plant workers are currently getting by on unemployment benefits and federal stimulus money, but Pena says many need to get back to work as soon as possible in order to make ends meet.
“Everyone’s situation is different. As we go through this as a country, month to month, it’s going to get harder. Nothing about this process has been easy, it’s brand new to everyone,” he said.
Ford wouldn’t confirm the potential May 4 reopening date, but said in a statement that they are “are continuing to assess public health conditions, government guidelines and supplier readiness to determine when the time is right to resume production in our North American plants. Ford and the UAW have been working closely on initiatives to keep the workforce safe when we restart our plants.”