Common Motors, Ford won’t require Covid-19 vaccinations for workers

Ford began resuming vehicle production in the U.S. on May 18, 2020 with new coronavirus safety protocols like health assessments, personal protective equipment, and changes to facilities to increase social distancing.

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General Motors will not require employees to get Covid-19 vaccinations to return to physical office locations or continue working in manufacturing facilities, the company told CNBC on Friday.

The Detroit-based automaker is working with nearby rival Ford Motor to confirm plans for voluntary vaccinations despite the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allowing employers to require workers to be vaccinated.

United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble said Friday he believes none of the 400,000 union members should be forced to get Covid-19 vaccinations, but he is encouraging workers to get vaccinated.

“I think it is important that as many members as possible are vaccinated,” Gamble said in a statement emailed. “That said, just like influenza vaccination policy, there will be some who have concerns about vaccination through religious beliefs or medical history or personal beliefs, and so I do not believe that this should be mandatory.”

Gamble, whose comments were first reported by Automotive News on Friday, said the UAW is working with companies, including Detroit automakers, to make Covid-19 vaccines available to employees.

The Detroit automakers have each announced that they are preparing to distribute the workforce, but have refused to release certain plans. Reuters reported last month that Ford ordered a dozen ultra-cold freezers to hold the vaccine made by Pfizer.

“We plan to make COVID vaccines available to our employees on a voluntary basis,” Ford said in a statement emailed. “Our initial focus is on key employees in our manufacturing facilities, warehouses, job-dependent employees, and employees who need to travel.”

Fiat Chrysler said it has “assembled a cross-functional team, including health professionals, to investigate the most effective approach to vaccine distribution,” but it has not announced whether vaccination would be mandatory for employees.

UAW President Rory Gamble speaks during a press conference with the U.S. Department of Justice about a deal with the union of a federal corruption probe in Detroit on December 14, 2020.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

It would come as a surprise to Fiat Chrysler to break the pattern of its Detroit counterparts, particularly with UAW members. The Detroit automakers together employ nearly 550,000 people worldwide, including approximately 153,000 UAW members.

Requiring vaccinations for workers could be seen as contradicting claims made by Detroit automakers that Covid-19 is low in their plants. Automakers implemented safety and social distancing protocols when they reopened factories that had closed for about two months this spring to help slow the spread of the disease.

Gamble also told Automotive News that it plans to be vaccinated “on public television” if possible to encourage members to get vaccinated.

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