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Ford plans to restart Chicago-area factories May 18

Its plants on the South Side and in Chicago Heights have been closed for two months.

Ford employees Jason Perez and Marla Dillard-Lemons share a laugh during work at the Torrence Avenue plant last summer.
John Booz/For the Sun-Times

Ford said Thursday that it will restart its Chicago-area assembly operations May 18 as part of a phased opening of its North American operations.

Spokeswoman Kelli Felker said the assembly plant at 12600 S. Torrence Ave. and the Chicago Heights stamping plant will reopen with two shifts. They have been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic since March 19.

Ford said its phased approach includes reopening parts depots Monday. It said operations will be slowed by new safety protocols that include extra time between shifts to reduce employee interactions and increase cleaning. The United Auto Workers union has voiced support for a return to work provided that staffers have adequate protective gear.

“We’ve developed these safety protocols in coordination with our union partners, especially the UAW, and we all know it will take time to adjust to them,” said Gary Johnson, Ford’s chief manufacturing and labor officer. “We are in this together and plan to return to our normal operating patterns as soon as we are confident the system is ready to support.”

Under UAW contracts with Fiat Chrysler, General Motors and Ford, the companies have authority to pick restart dates. But the union can file grievances and seek closures if the virus spreads at factories.

“We all knew this day would come,” union President Rory Gamble said Tuesday. “We continue to advocate for as much testing as possible at the current time and eventually full-testing when available.”

Ford said anyone entering its facilities will be required to wear a mask and that every employee will be issued masks and other items for their health. For those whose jobs don’t allow for social distancing, safety glasses with side shields or face shields will be required, the company said.

Its two Chicago-area plants employ about 6,000 people when working at maximum production.

“We’ve been working intently with state and federal governments, our union partners and a cross-section of our workforce to reopen our North American facilities,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer. “We have reopened our facilities in China, successfully begun our phased restart in Europe and have been producing medical equipment in Michigan for more than six weeks and are using the lessons from all of that to ensure we are taking the right precautions to help keep our workforce here safe.”