Automakers shut North American plants over coronavirus fears

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Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Sept. 27, 2018, file photo a United Auto Workers assemblymen work on a 2018 Ford F-150 trucks being assembled at the Ford Rouge assembly plant in Dearborn, Mich. The United Auto Workers union wants Detroit's three automakers to shut down their factories for two weeks to keep its members safe from the spreading coronavirus. But union President Rory Gamble says in an email to members obtained by The Associated Press that the companies were not willing to shut factories down. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

DETROIT, Mich. – Concerns about the spreading coronavirus forced most of North America's auto plants to close, at least temporarily.

Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota said they would shut down all factories in the region, citing concerns for employees who work in close quarters building automobiles. Nissan will close U.S. factories. Hyundai shut down its Alabama plant after a worker tested positive for the virus.

Detroit's three automakers said their closures would begin this week, while Honda and Toyota will start next week. Nissan will close U.S. plants starting Friday. Closings will run from a few days to over two weeks, but most automakers said they'll have to evaluate the spread of the virus before reopening.

“We have been taking extraordinary precautions around the world to keep our plant environments safe, and recent developments in North America make it clear this is the right thing to do now,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement.

Detroit's three automakers alone will idle about 150,000 workers. They likely will receive supplemental pay in addition to state unemployment benefits. The two checks combined will about equal what the workers normally make. GM said pay was still being negotiated with the United Auto Workers union.

Ford said it will work with union leaders in the coming weeks on plans to restart factories. The union has been pushing for factories to close because workers are fearful of coming into contact with the virus.

At GM’s pickup truck assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, workers have been apprehensive ever since the virus surfaced in the U.S., said Tommy Wolikow, a union member who delivers parts to the assembly line.

Wolikow, 38, said he comes in close contact with other workers and was afraid of catching the virus and passing it to his two daughters ages 2 and 7.