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A General Motors transmission plant in Warren, Michigan — closed as part of a 2019 restructuring — is once again buzzing with life as brand new safety mask production lines are now manufacturing roughly 50,000 masks per day.
Hundreds of workers at General Motors and other auto companies have gone back to work to make face shields, surgical masks and ventilators in a wartime-like effort to stem shortages of protective gear and equipment.
All over the country, blue-collar and salaried workers have raised their hands to make medical equipment as companies repurpose factories to answer calls for help from beleaguered nurses, doctors and paramedics who are treating patients with the highly contagious virus.
Most automakers in the U.S. temporarily stopped making vehicles about a month ago after workers complained about the risks of infection at the factories. Many white-collar workers are being paid to work remotely, but members of the United Auto Workers who don’t have that option are still collecting pay and unemployment benefits that equal about 95% of regular take-home wages.
Those workers making medical gear will get their full base pay, but that’s not what’s motivating them to keep coming to the factories. Many simply want to help.
Jody Barrowman has been making face masks at a repurposed former General Motors transmission factory near Detroit since early April.
“Instead of being home and not helpful, I thought I’d be productive here,” she said Thursday at the facility in Warren, Michigan.
Jim Glynn, vice president of GM workplace safety, said volunteers such as Barrowman at Warren Transmission “are coming from all over the company.”
The Detroit automakers are trying to restart production on their vehicles, perhaps as soon as early May, but both Ford and GM say medical gear production will continue. Ford says it has enough workers to do both while GM says it won’t need all factory workers right away because it plans a gradual restart.
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