Ford KTP Super Duty 3-19-19.JPG

Workers on the line at Ford Motor Co.'s Kentucky Truck Plant in eastern Jefferson County, March 19, 2019

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – More than 12,000 Louisville auto workers will be laid off from Friday through March 30 as Ford Motor Co. closes its U.S. factories, including Kentucky Truck Plant and Louisville Assembly Plant, for a deep cleaning to limit exposure to the novel coronavirus.

“It’s good news for the membership,” said Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862, which represents rank-and-file workers at both Louisville plants. “With all the uncertainty and nervousness and anxiety going on, at least that gives them a baseline knowledge of what the company is doing (in response to the virus).”

The top union official at Louisville Assembly Plant, Herb Hibbs, called on Ford over the weekend to halt work, but the company and other Detroit automakers resisted until Wednesday’s announcement.

The shutdown takes effect Friday and runs through March 30.

The UAW and Ford said in a joint statement Wednesday that they will work together on operational changes at the plants to limit virus spread, including “finding ways to maximize social distancing among plant workers – both during work hours and at shift change, when large numbers of people typically gather at entry and exit points and maximizing cleaning times between shift changes.”

Some workers remain skeptical. One sent WDRB a video taken Wednesday of a vehicle moving down the line at Louisville Assembly Plant with three plant workers within a few feet of each other as they performed their jobs.

Asked whether the manufacturing work can be reconfigured to ensure workers at six-feet apart, Dunn said it was too soon to say.

“There are a lot of variables … With so much complexity, it would be very hard to give you a single, clear, concise answer,” he said.

But workarounds will be needed, he said, because, “This thing (virus) isn’t going away in two weeks.”

Ford workers will now join thousands of others in drawing state unemployment benefits. Some – but not all – are entitled to union-negotiated supplemental pay from the company.

One longtime Kentucky Truck Plant worker, who requested anonymity for speaking to the media without company permission, said many workers wanted a shut down, if anything because schools and daycares are closed.   

“Majority of the people I talk with in person are more concerned with getting into attendance trouble due to child care (as opposed to) illness themselves,” the worker said.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.