GM to Keep Third Shift at Wentzville Despite Rising COVID Cases in County

General Motors will bring in laid-off workers from other plants to fill a gap in labor preventing it from running three shifts at its Wentzville Assembly plant.

The Missouri plant produces full-size and mid-size pickups, demand for which has been high despite the pandemic. But with fears of COVID-19 keeping many workers out of the factory, the third shift was in jeopardy.

At the start of July, reports indicated that the plant would go down to two shifts, but the Detroit Free Press reports that by bringing workers in from other idled plants, GM will fill the shortfall and allow it to continue running the third shift.

Cases of COVID-19 in St. Charles County, where Wentzville is located, have exploded in recent weeks, though. When initial reports came out that the plant would go down to two shifts, around July 10, the county had 1,500 confirmed cases and 77 deaths. In just three weeks, that number shot up to more than 3,000 cases and 90 deaths.

GM says that it believes any workers who have tested positive for the virus caught it outside the factory and were prevented entry before being able to spread it. But it still does not report how many cases have been confirmed in its plants.

The company argues that this is being done to protect privacy, but the lack of transparency is leading to a lack of trust among workers, according to an unnamed source who spoke with the Free Press.

“People don’t know who has it and who doesn’t,” the person said. “GM’s lack of transparency is hurting productivity.”

A union communication obtained by the Free Press said there were 44 confirmed cases in the plant, but workers say the figure is much higher. On June 12, when there were just five cases, the union asked GM to shut down the plant but the company declined, opting instead to spray the facility with disinfected—a measure of questionable efficacy and value.

General Motors, though, argues that by keeping the third shift running it won’t have to lay workers off. Before we attribute too much generosity of spirit to GM, Chevy and GMC have gained market share in the crucial pickup market over the past six months. As a result of demand and shutdowns, it’s having trouble producing enough vehicles. Going down to two shifts would simply be leaving money on the table.

How long it will be able to convince its workforce it is safe to return to the factory remains to be seen. 

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