After sitting idle for weeks or even months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. assembly plants have finally restarted production, albeit with the occasional hiccup.
Despite an unemployment rate of 8.4 percent, the pandemic has, ironically, exacerbated the skilled labor shortage in U.S. manufacturing. Assembly plants around the country are facing staff shortages either because workers have been quarantined, because they are afraid of contracting the coronavirus, or—unbelievably—because they were making more on unemployment than they were while working.
To solve that problem, some manufacturers are redeploying white-collar workers to blue-collar jobs. In July, for example, Honda Motor Co. asked office workers at its factory in Marysville, OH, to fill in temporarily on the assembly line. And, in August, General Motors asked salaried workers to staff assembly lines at its assembly plant in Wentzville, MO, which produces the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon trucks, as well as Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana commercial vans.
A GM spokesman says the number of salaried workers on the lines varies from a few to a few dozen. The plant runs three shifts, with about 1,250 workers on each shift, and the automaker has struggled to staff all three shifts.
Predictably, the UAW wasn’t happy. The union claims that appointing salaried employees instead of hourly UAW members violates the GM-UAW labor agreement. “We strenuously object to GM doing this,” says UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg.
White-collar workers aren’t too thrilled with the idea, either, particularly since most of them have been working from home lately. “I was not very happy about [being moved to the assembly line] because I’ve tried really hard to socially distance and keep away from other people during this,” a salaried worker at Honda told a local radio station.
Personally, we think it’s a good thing for white-collar workers to work on the assembly line now and then, if only just to see how the other half lives. Maybe then there’d be a little less rancor when it’s time to negotiate the next labor contract.