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Automakers to temporarily shut down factories to slow the spread of coronavirus

Ford F-150s are assembled in Dearborn, Mich., in 2018. Ford described its production halt as a temporary measure to keep workers safe during the coronavirus pandemic. (Carlos Osorio/AP)
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Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Chrysler will halt production at all North American factories for at least two weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

After initially committing only to a “rotating partial shutdown” that would have kept factories open while staggering shifts to reduce exposure, all of the “big three” automakers now say they are halting production indefinitely at plants across North America. The shutdowns will continue at least until March 30, at which point the companies will reevaluate their options.

“Working with the UAW, and having visited many of our plants yesterday, we need to ensure employees feel safe at work and that we are taking every step possible to protect them. We will continue to do what is right for our people through this period of uncertainty," Fiat Chrysler chief executive Mike Manley said in a statement.

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GM executives said shutting down production is “the right thing to do” to protect workers’ health.

“GM and the UAW have always put the health and safety of the people entering GM plants first, and we have agreed to a systematic, orderly suspension of production to aid in fighting COVID-19/coronavirus,” GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “We have been taking extraordinary precautions around the world to keep our plant environments safe and recent developments in North America make it clear this is the right thing to do now."

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Ford described its production halt as a temporary measure to keep workers safe.

“UAW and Ford leaders will work together on how to best structure plant restart plans ― along with health and safety procedures,” Ford said in a statement.

The virus prevention measures from the Big Three automakers came after extensive negotiation with the union, which had pushed to temporarily shut down factories, as Ford and GM have now agreed to do. Company leadership initially balked at halting production, instead asking for 48 hours to come up with an alternative plan.

“We spent hours tonight in talks with the leadership of the Big 3, demanding that they do the right thing for our members,” the UAW said in a statement. “All three companies have agreed to new measures that will increase adherence to CDC recommendations on social distancing in the workplace.”

All three companies are struggling to prevent the virus from spreading throughout the workforce while also taking steps to maintain the long-term stability of their businesses. All three companies have seen their stock prices plummet by roughly 50 percent on fears that the pandemic could lead to a recession.

A lot is at stake for the U.S. economy and for workers across the country. The automotive manufacturing industry employed about a million people in the United States as of February 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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White House officials have been working with congressional Republicans on an emergency stimulus package that could add up to $1 trillion, with an estimated $50 billion for the aviation industry. A Treasury Department document outlining the parameters of a possible stimulus plan did not specifically mention automakers, although it did call for $150 billion for “secured lending or loan guarantees to assist other critical sectors of the U.S. economy experiencing severe financial distress due to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Rachel Siegel and Alice Crites contributed to this report.