UPDATE: Whitmer restarts manufacturing, extends stay-home to May 28

Published: May. 7, 2020 at 10:34 AM EDT
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that auto and other manufacturing workers can return to the job next week, further easing her stay-at-home order while extending it through May 28 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She said that although the state is “not out of the woods yet,” reopening factories that have been closed since mid-March is an important step to gradually reopening the economy.

Manufacturers can resume operations on Monday, which is key for auto parts makers a week ahead of automakers’ planned May 18 restart. Plants must adopt measures to protect their workers, including daily entry screening and, once they are available, the use of no-touch thermometers.

Manufacturing will be the second major industry to fully reopen in the span of five days. Construction restarted on Thursday.

The Democratic governor, whose emergency powers are being challenged in court by the Republican-led Legislature, lengthened the shelter-in-place order to last nearly two more weeks in a state where more than 4,200 people have died from COVID-19 complications. The restrictions had been scheduled to expire May 15.

Michigan, which is home to the Detroit Three carmakers, has about 630,000 manufacturing workers who make up 13% of the state’s workforce. John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, estimated that more than half were temporarily laid off because of the pandemic and the moves taken to slow the virus’s spread.

He credited Whitmer for bringing together business and labor leaders “to ensure our workers can return to the job safely. The safety of our workers is our top priority, and I am confident that Michigan manufacturers are prepared to deliver on the worker protections included in today’s order,” he said.

The measure requires businesses to train their employees on using personal protective equipment, including wearing masks when they cannot consistently stay 6 feet from others. Face shields should be considered for those who are closer than 3 feet apart.

Fiat Chrysler and General Motors have said they will reopen plants starting May 18, while Ford has not officially announced a date.

The Original Equipment Suppliers Association, a large parts manufacturer supplier trade group, said its members asked Whitmer to let them restart operations at least five days ahead of when the carmakers planned to restart factories.

At least 25 employees at auto facilities represented by the United Auto Workers have died as a result of COVID-19, although it is not known if they were infected at work. The union said it wants as much testing as possible and a commitment to the full testing of workers as soon as it is available.

The plant closures have cut off almost all revenue for the automakers, which count the money when vehicles are shipped to dealers.

The UAW released the following statement regarding the announcement:

"Throughout this worldwide crisis, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been a leading voice to make sure that scientific data and the health and safety of all Michiganders was the priority in managing pandemic decisions.

Governor Whitmer has at all times been inclusive and focused on building consensus to do what is right for the health and safety of UAW members and all of Michigan’s working men and women.

The UAW will continue to have dialogue and aggressively pursue all avenues over the health and safety of our members, their families and their communities as we cautiously go into our next phase of battling this pandemic while worksites reopen.”

GM plants in Michigan have also released statements on the governor's announcement:

Erin Davis - GM’s spokesperson for Lansing area plants:

"Considerable planning is underway to restart operations in North America. Based on conversations and collaboration with unions and government officials, GM is targeting to restart the majority of manufacturing operations on May 18 in the U.S. and Canada under extensive safety measures. These global, standardized measures were informed by learnings from GM facilities in China; Korea; Kokomo, Indiana; Arlington, Texas; Warren, Michigan; Customer Care & Aftersales operations, as well as collaboration with union leadership and supplier partners. These procedures meet or exceed CDC and WHO guidelines, and are designed to keep people safe when they arrive, while they work and as they leave the facility."

Dan Flores - GM Detroit area communications manager

"GM confirmed yesterday on our Q1 earnings call that we are targeting May 18 to restart production at most of our assembly plants in North America. Our plants will begin with one production shift and add second and then third shifts at some as appropriate. Individual plant return to work directions will be communicated to each plant thru its normal communication mechanisms.

We will be focused on our trucks, crossovers and SUVs. We are in the process of communicating and training our teams in the safety protocols that will be in place when production resumes."

Additionally, on Thursday, the governor released her six-phase plan to reopen the state. She listed those six phases in a press release sent to News 10:

1) Uncontrolled growth: The increasing number of new cases every day, overwhelming our health systems.

2) Persistent spread: We continue to see high case levels with concern about health system capacity.

3) Flattening: The epidemic is no longer increasing and the health system's capacity is sufficient for current needs.

4) Improving: Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are clearly declining.

5) Containing: Continued case and death rate improvements, with outbreaks quickly contained.

6) Post-pandemic: Community spread not expected to return.

“I am working closely with health care experts and epidemiologists to closely monitor Michigan’s progress in the fight against COVID-19,” said Governor Whitmer. “As we move forward with the MI Safe Start Plan, I am working closely with partners in business, labor, and education to determine the best way to move forward each day. All of us know the importance of getting people back to work and the economy moving again. We’ve already reopened lower-risk sectors like construction, manufacturing, and lawn care.

“The worst thing we can do is open up in a way that causes a second wave of infections and death, puts health care workers at further risk, and wipes out all the progress we've made. That's why we will continue to monitor the spread of this virus, hospital capacity, testing rates, and more as we work toward reaching the ‘improving’ phase,” the governor said.

As of Thursday, there are 45,646 cases of coronavirus with 4,343 deaths.

You can watch the press conference here:

You can read the governor's full Safe Start plan by clicking to the right of this article.

Copyright 2019 Associated Press and WILX. All rights reserved.