GM assembly line workers are staying away from the Wentzville, Missouri, pickup assembly plant as COVID-19 cases increase. Since the start of July cases have more than tripled in St. Charles County where the Wentzville Assembly Plant is located. Cases are near 4,000 per week while they were only 1,100 a month ago. To make up for the labor shortfall GM is sending salaried employees to the plant as those COVID-19 cases rise and scare off workers.
“Our numbers just skyrocketed”
“Our numbers just skyrocketed,” said Demetrius Cianci-Chapman, St. Charles County’s public health department director to the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “We’re not slowing down. We’re still having the same rate of new cases that we were seeing throughout July.” Missouri reported 35,563 new cases just last month.
WSWS News says that no systematic testing or contact tracing is being done at the plant. It says that social distancing at the pickup plant is virtually impossible. The St. Louis Pandemic Task Force has singled out Wentzville as a COVID-19 hot spot.
The UAW says having salaried employees work the lines breaches the GM labor contract
The UAW says that GM’s move to have salaried employees work the lines breaches the GM labor contract. “We have strenuously objected to this violation of the contract,” said UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg to Automotive News. “The local union has started the grievance process.” GM spokesman Jim Cain said the number of salaried workers on the line in Wentzville varies by week. Some weeks the total has exceeded two dozen, he told Automotive News.
GM says it needs the volunteers until the UAW can transfer workers from other plants or hire more for Wentzville. The plant has over 4,000 employees at the plant. It builds Chevy Colorado pickups and Express vans, and GMC Canyon and Savanna commercial vans at the plant. Currently, GM is looking for over 200 temporary workers to make up for the absenteeism.
By the end of July the plant was back up to three shifts
Originally, GM cut the third shift in mid-July to migrate third shift workers to the first and second shift. It said it had the demand to warrant three shifts. “We have been able to maintain three shifts to meet customer and dealer demand, so the impact on our inventory rebuild should be negligible,” Cain said Tuesday. “We’re grateful for the support we have received as the plant works through a very difficult staffing challenge.” By the end of July, the plant was back up to three shifts.
Demand for new pickups and SUVs is starving dealers around the country for the work stoppages over COVID-19. Now, many plants are on full tilt trying to fulfill dealer and customer orders. Both the Colorado and Canyon midsize pickups are in strong demand. Wentzville is the only plant that assembles these trucks.
GM has blacked out information on COVID-19 cases. The Detroit Free Press has reported that the company’s policy is to not confirm the number of cases at its plants. UAW Local 2250 Chairperson Alan Chambliss reported late last week that 44 workers had tested positive for COVID-19 at GM Wentzville. Workers at the pickup plant suspect the figure to be much higher.