Ford temporarily halts work at 2 plants; Rolls cuts jobs

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The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed. Following are developments Wednesday related to national and global response, the work place and the spread of the virus.


ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN: Ford temporarily halted production at two assembly plants Tuesday and Wednesday after three workers tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The shutdowns show the difficulty that automakers and other businesses will have in trying to reopen factories in the midst of the pandemic.

On Wednesday a worker at the pickup truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, tested positive for COVID-19, Ford confirmed. Assembly lines that make the F-150 pickup truck were shut down while work areas were cleaned, and employees who came in contact with the worker were sent home for 14 days. Production was to resume Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, Ford temporarily closed its Chicago SUV factory twice after two workers tested positive. Production was halted to sanitize equipment.

In all three cases, Ford said the workers contracted COVID-19 outside the workplace.

The automaker resumed production of the Ford Explorer and Lincoln Aviator Wednesday morning, only to shut down again after running short of seats made at a Lear Corp. factory in nearby Hammond, Indiana. Lear confirmed that production was suspended after an employee told the company of a positive COVID-19 test.

Lear said it’s disinfecting the plant and isolating affected workers following federal guidelines. Ford said its Chicago plant should be running again for Wednesday’s evening shift.

The closures came just a day after Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler restarted their U.S. factories after being shut down for about two months.

— Aerospace engine maker Rolls-Royce plans to cut approximately 9,000 jobs globally. The company employs 52,000 people overall, and it is not immediately clear where the cuts will occur. The move will result in about 700 million pounds ($856 million) in savings, with an overall aim of 1.3 billion pounds ($1.59 billion) in annual savings.

— A growing number of airports are requiring passengers to wear face masks. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport announced Wednesday that it will require face coverings starting June 1. Several major airports including Los Angeles International, Seattle-Tacoma and Portland, Oregon, are already requiring masks. All major U.S. airlines require them to board a plane, although some have instructed their flight attendants not to confront passengers who remove them once the plane is in the air.

IF YOU BUILD IT: The new CEO of United Airlines says it may take until there is a vaccine for COVID-19 before most people feel comfortable about air travel. Scott Kirby said Wednesday that demand for air travel is improving, especially bookings in the second half of the year, “but the question is, are those people going to show up?” Kirby, the company’s president, spoke to CNBC shortly before United’s online annual meeting in which he was scheduled to replace Oscar Munoz as CEO.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Hundreds of McDonald’s workers in 20 U.S. cities walked out on strike Wednesday to protest the chain’s coronavirus response. The workers are backed by Service Employees International Union, which is trying to unionize fast food restaurants through the Fight for $15 movement.

In a lawsuit filed in Chicago this week, and in complaints to state health officials in California, workers say McDonald’s and its franchisees have failed to provide them with adequate masks, gloves and hand sanitizer and haven’t warned them when coworkers test positive for the virus. McDonald’s says the complaints are inaccurate and it has provided franchisees with safety equipment and rules for safe operation.

— The largest food and retail union in the U.S. criticized some companies for ending hazard pay even as coronavirus death and infections mount among grocery workers.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said at least 68 of the grocery workers it represents have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Another 10,000 have been infected or exposed to the virus. Both figures are double the union’s tally from five weeks ago. The UFCW, which represents 900,000 grocery workers, said the number of infections is likely far higher across the industry.

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