COVID-19 prevention leads Daimler to close Portland truck plant

By Don McIntosh

In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, Daimler Trucks North America is closing its Western Star and Freightliner truck plants in Portland, North and South Carolina, by Thursday March 27, with plans, for now, to reopen April 6. [UPDATE: As of March 26 closure was extended through April 13.] Daimler previously closed its auto factories in Europe

In Portland, the closure impacts roughly 700 members of four unions: Machinists Local Lodge 1005, Teamsters Local 305, Painters Local 1094, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 49. Representatives of the four unions learned details of the closure in conference calls yesterday and today.

The closure comes as public health officials recommend people maintain six feet of distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Workers can’t always do that at the truck plant, because some jobs require two people working in close quarters.

In recent weeks, Machinists District Lodge W24 rep Dwain Panian said the Portland plant has deployed extra janitorial crews to do multiple daily cleanings of rest rooms and frequently-touched surfaces like hand rails, light switches, and time clocks.

“They’ve been really proactive in trying to maintain the health at the plant,” said Panian, who is working from home.

Panian said he hasn’t heard of any cases of COVID-19 among workers at the plant so far. But he did hear from a number of members who thought the plant should close to prevent the spread.

Last week, General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler announced auto plants would close for at least a week after the United Auto Workers pressured them to do so to protect workers. Honda, Toyota and Nissan announced temporary closure of their North American plants as well.

Because the unemployment insurance system doesn’t pay benefits until week two of a layoff, the 10-day closure could result in a week’s lost wages for Portland truck plant workers.

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