(Adds FCA workers stopping work over virus exposure fears)
By Ben Klayman and David Shepardson
DETROIT/WASHINGTON, March 13 (Reuters) - U.S. automakers General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co said on Friday they will have most of their white-collar workforce working remotely as of Monday to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
Fears over the spread of the virus led hourly employees at Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s (FCA) minivan assembly plant in Windsor, Ontario, to stop working for a time, a spokeswoman said.
The FCA workers had been concerned about possible exposure to the virus through secondary contact, but were convinced there was no risk and they returned to work Friday afternoon after about 24 hours, a spokeswoman said.
GM Chief Executive Mary Barra told employees on Friday the No. 1 automaker is asking all employees and contract workers to work remotely, noting the company has faced crises before.
“For many of us, it’s our first experience of this type. But disruption and trying circumstances are not new to us,” she said in an email.
Barra said the remote-work policy applied globally apart from China, which has existing protocols in place. “Our IT tools and systems have been extensively stress-tested; it’s vital that we leverage them to continue delivering,” she said.
Ford will shift most of its global white-collar workforce outside China, where recovery has begun, to working remotely, CEO James Hackett said in an email to employees.
“In recent days ... we’ve concluded the coronavirus issue has taken on a different dimension – and we need to be proactive to keep our people safe and help limit the spread of the virus in the communities where we live and work,” he said.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV also is accelerating its deployment of remote work for white-collar employees beyond the most affected countries of China, South Korea, Japan and Italy, CEO Mike Manley said in a letter to employees seen by Reuters on Friday.
Ford’s Hackett told employees that in the event a worker tests positive for the virus they will be told to get medical attention and self quarantine at home. Ford will identify others who may have been in contact with that person and instruct them to seek medical attention and self quarantine for 14 days.
He added Ford will close any facility exposed to a confirmed case, and a spokeswoman confirmed that includes manufacturing plants.
However, Ford has seen “limited” impact to its global operations due to the epidemic, with some employees testing positive for the virus in China and Germany but none so far in the United States, spokesman Mark Truby said.
The No. 2 U.S. automaker has not lost any vehicle production outside of China and it is taking steps to keep its plants operating, he said. However, some parts of the U.S. market have seen customer traffic at dealers hurt by the outbreak, he added.
On Thursday, FCA said an employee at its Indiana transmission plant had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, but he was being treated and the plant was still operating while anyone exposed to that worker was quarantined.
Manley said in the letter to employees on Thursday that FCA is focused on worker safety and keeping its plants running.
“Clearly, we are now moving beyond regional hotspots and into planning for how this will impact every area of our business across the world,” he said.
Changes include allowing for greater space between employees at several plants, and stepping up cleaning and availability of face masks, Manley said.
FCA said this week it was temporarily halting operations at some Italian plants and would reduce production rates in response to the outbreak. (Reporting by Ben Klayman and David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)