COVID-19 is hitting autoworkers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles once again.
Two workers at Warren Truck Assembly have died recently, according to the company.
That follows the death last month of a forklift operator who worked at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant. The man's death followed a monthlong battle with COVID-19, according to his obituary.
The deaths of the Warren Truck workers elevate a grim toll connected to the plant. Although it's not clear where the workers contracted the virus, six workers from the plant have died since the start of the pandemic. FCA said it believes the exposure of the latest Warren workers happened elsewhere.
"FCA was saddened to learn of the recent deaths of two employees from our Warren Truck Assembly Plant and one employee from our Sterling Heights Assembly Plant. Based on our aggressive contact tracing protocols, we believe that these positive cases did not come from exposure inside the plants. In fact, one of the Warren Truck employees had not been in the plant since June when it shut down for retooling," FCA said in a statement Dec. 9.
That retooling was to allow the plant to prepare for production of the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.
The toll from the pandemic has hit many areas beyond the automotive industry. Michigan counted 10,000 dead as of Dec. 8, with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordering U.S. and Michigan flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of those who've died, according to Free Press reporting this week.
"As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise across the country, no community, business or industry is immune to the impact of this virus. Like other companies, FCA...
...is seeing this reflected in our workforce as well," the company said.
The UAW provided a statement about the situation through spokesman Brian Rothenberg:
"Our thoughts are with the families and coworkers during this very difficult time. It’s important that we all redouble our efforts to make sure we, our families and our co-workers follow protocols both at the worksite and outside of work."
The World Socialist website reported earlier on the deaths.
FCA was the hardest hit among the Detroit Three automakers during the initial months of the pandemic in terms of reported fatalities. After a production shutdown affecting all automakers ended in the spring, the companies went to great lengths to emphasize its safety and cleaning protocols, but in recent weeks, reports from concerned workers to the Free Press have been increasing.
The Free Press also spoke with the widow of the Sterling Heights worker on Dec. 8. Mark Bianchi, 56, of Shelby Township, died in November. He drove a Hi-Lo at the plant.
He came home from work Oct. 5, a Monday, and started showing symptoms, fever and congestion, according to his wife, Susan Bianchi. The next day, he went to the doctor, who thought he might have a sinus infection. The doctor, however, noted the coronavirus-like symptoms and warned Bianchi to be on watch for changes. That same day Susan started showing symptoms herself, such as a slight cough.
By Oct. 11, Bianchi was at Beaumont Hospital, Troy. He was put on a ventilator at one point, and an hour after that...
...had a heart attack and had to be given medication to keep him from fighting the device, Susan said. Until then, she’d been able to keep in touch with him through FaceTime.
Susan, who works from home, said she requested he be flown to another hospital because of his worsening condition and the special equipment available there. Bianchi was taken to Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, on Halloween and placed on an ECMO machine.
That process, according to the Mayo Clinic, means "blood is pumped outside of your body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body," allowing the heart and lungs to heal.
The initial results looked encouraging, but on Nov. 6, Susan got a call that her husband was not likely to make it though the night. He died Nov. 7.
“He didn’t know a stranger,” Susan said, when asked about her husband. She pointed to the 42 condolence messages on his online obituary to show the impact he made.
The obituary noted that Bianchi married Susan, the love of his life, in 1989 and got a culinary degree from Macomb Community College.
“He worked 26 years in auto production at FCA, where he never wasted an opportunity to tell his coworkers how Jesus loved them,” according to the obit.
In its statement on the worker deaths, FCA pointed to the protocols it has in place:
"We know these protocols---including on-site temperature checks, daily health questionnaires, mandatory use of masks and safety glasses, social distancing and continual cleaning and disinfecting---are working to prevent the spread and transmission of the virus when employees are at work. In addition, we are encouraging our employees to follow these same protocols when out and about to protect not only themselves, but their colleagues, families and communities."