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Auto plants throughout Midwest continue operating during major winter storm

We want to hear from you: email us at autoworkers@wsws.org. Tell us what’s happening at your plant or neighborhood. If you are able, send us photos, accounts of the response of management or the United Auto Workers and other firsthand material. We will post these anonymously throughout the day as part of our continuing coverage.

Updates from autoworkers around the country

A worker at the GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri says that GM was forced to cancel first shift after so many workers called in: “We got freezing rain, sleet and snow. Someone posted on Facebook that contractually if 40 percent call in weather-related absence they have to pay us short work week. That person supposedly got in trouble for it... So everyone called in weather-related.”

A parts worker at Dana in Fort Wayne, Indiana said: “It’s leaking bad everywhere from the roof. I don't know if we're mandated to stay but if we are, I'm not staying. We should be home. We are all standing around doing nothing anyway. So many people called off that the supply is messed up. My people don't have anything to run because it's done from the previous department.” Fort Wayne was let out earlier this evening because so many workers called in.

A worker at Toledo Jeep said: “They say they won’t let us out unless the county declares a level 3 snow emergency. It was level 3 a couple years ago, maybe even last year. If I remember correctly we were at work, they called level 3 and we stayed at work until the end of the shift. They didn't call it until around 12-1am and we got off 3:30am.

“The levels, I think, was more created for emergency crews and making sure they could still get to calls without people on the roads getting stuck and jamming up traffic. I do know however that if we do go to a level 3, we aren't excluded from being ticketed if caught on the streets during that time, so they should allow them to go home before it gets to that.”

Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant was forced to work today through a state of emergency declared by Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker. Many workers said on social media that they intended to stay home, or couldn’t even get out of their driveways, with a smaller number saying they were still planning to go in.

The Faurecia parts plant in Saline, Michigan is working through the storm. Last month, according to workers, about half of the plant was sick with covid. “Entire sections of the plant have been shut down because so many people are sick,” one worker said.

Warren Truck supplemental workers forced back to 12-hour shifts to cover for weather-related absences

On Monday night, management at Stellantis’ Warren TruckAssembly Plant sent text messages supplemental workers announcing 12-hour shifts for the rest of the week:

This message is intended for ALL Active Warren Truck Supplemental Employees. Effective as of your next scheduled shift for today's date, February 1, 2022, you are scheduled for a mandatory 12 hours with the additional 4 hours to be completed at the end of your shift. Failure to report or adhere to these scheduling changes could result in violations to the supplemental attendance policy.

Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 through the factory, management at Stellantis’ Warren Truck Assembly Plant has been plagued with absenteeism and interruptions of production. Last month, supplemental workers were required to work 12 hour, 6-7 day shifts in an attempt to compensate for loss of manpower, generating anger among workers. One worker submitted a letter to the World Socialist Web Site which received tens of thousands of readers.

However, eventually infections became so widespread inside the plant that there were no longer enough workers on the shop floor to sustain the 12-hour shifts. Last week, the supplementals were put back on their regular eight-hour shifts; rumors swirled, however that the company was bringing in 150 more supplemental workers to compensate.

“We’re losing people. The more they bring in, the more we lose. They know they’re going to lose half of the new ones they bring in,” one supplemental worker said.

“It’s brutal! Like a meat grinder. You go in and you don’t know how you’re going to come out. They move you around all over the place, working two jobs, and putting workers in a position where it is impossible to social distance.”

Auto plants, schools remain open as heavy snowfall begins throughout the Central United States

Snowfall has begun throughout the American Midwest this afternoon as a significant winter storm is now underway. Heavy snowfall is expected across the entire center of the country, from northern states such as Illinois and Michigan to Southern states like Missouri and Texas. The latter was overwhelmed last year by heavy snow fall which knocked out much of its electrical grid, leading to 246 deaths. The storm is moving from west to east and is expected to reach eastern portions of the country, many of which already experienced heavy snow last week, by this weekend.

A truck drives past a highway sign Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency Monday that knocked out power to more than 2 million people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

States of emergency have already been declared in Illinois, where up to 18 inches of snow is expected, as well as Missouri, Oklahoma and Kentucky. In Michigan, the snow is expected to be less severe than the record-breaking levels originally forecast, but eight to 10 inches is still expected. NBC News reports that 64 million Americans are currently under some type of weather alert.

Schools closures have been announced throughout the region. Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) will be closed through Thursday. Incredibly, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has announced it will remain open this week, in spite of the state of emergency in Illinois. This was announced at 6:30 this morning on Twitter, shortly before the scheduled start of classes. The city administration of Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, is determined to maintain in-person classes after it conspired with the Chicago Teachers Union to beat back a rebellion by teachers and students to force them back into the buildings in spite of the continued massive spread of coronavirus.

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Incredulous parents took to social media to denounce the decision. “How are we supposed to get our kids there and home SAFELY in this mess????” one asked. “We can’t even drive down our residential blocks! This doesn’t make sense, and you have students stressed whether to miss class or risk a car accident!”

Many auto plants in the region are also staying open in spite of the weather. At Stellantis’ Warren Truck Assembly Plant, management is reinstating 12-hour shifts for supplemental workers, which had temporarily been ended after an outraged response from workers. In Toledo, workers report that management says that Toledo Jeep will only close under a “level three” snow emergency–that is, if the weather is so severe that the county declares it illegal to drive on the roads. Such an emergency has not been declared in Toledo in 18 years.

It remains to be seen what the conditions will be like in the plants which are operating. Many buildings are not properly maintained, with leaky ceilings and areas that regularly flood during storms. During one rainstorm last year in Detroit, thousands of brand new vehicles parked in an outdoor lot were ruined due to flood outside of Jefferson North Assembly Plant.