UAW Local 2250 President Glenn Kage knows exactly when he will go to General Motors for a "serious conversation" about shutting down the Wentzville Assembly plant for 14 days because of workers with coronavirus.
"Five to 10 cases (of coronavirus) is a yellow light, 10 to 20 cases is a red light," Kage told the Free Press on June 11. "In my opinion, 20 is too many. That’s the number.”
Local 2250 represents workers at the plant, located about 40 miles west of St. Louis. The union has already asked GM to shutter the facility for 14 days and do a deep cleaning after five people tested positive for coronavirus. But the automaker declined.
Instead, GM made some changes to improve safety protocols to protect workers and trace whether there has been any spread of coronavirus, Kage said. A GM spokesman said the automaker evaluates each plant on a case-by-case basis, but that GM will always do what’s medically necessary to keep people safe.
“They’re trying to do what’s right, but this virus is hard to attack, hard to trace and hard to contain," Kage said. "If we see a large outbreak in one area, then we need to have a serious conversation about what to do to protect our members.”
Wentzville is one of GM's key plants. It assembles the profitable midsize pickups: The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. GM also builds the Chevy Express and GMC Savana full-size vans in the 5.1 million-square-foot plant.
On June 8, Wentzville had one person test positive for coronavirus since restarting in mid-May. By the afternoon of June 11, that number shot up to five confirmed cases, Kage said. There's no telling where the workers contracted the virus.
As the number rose, Shop Chairman Alan Chambliss requested that GM shutter the plant for 14 days, Kage said.
"We've asked GM to shut it down and do a deep clean," Kage said. "We’ve had conversations about it. They’re trying to catch it with temperature monitoring to minimize contamination in the plant.”
There are about 4,100 total workers at Wentzville, so five sick employees is a small percentage of the workforce, Kage said GM told union leadership.
But Kage said three of the people who tested positive for coronavirus all worked in the same area. The union and members are scared that it will spread.
"We're starting to see it spread and we’re going to keep an eye on it," Kage said. "Hopefully, GM will do the right thing and halt production and do a thorough cleaning so we’re all safe."