General Motors announced a layoff at its Wentzville plant about 40 miles west of St. Louis earlier this week. The announcement was that the third shift at the plant which builds vans and midsized trucks would be temporarily shut down. Unlike typical layoffs, the reason for the shift shutdown is not clear.

GM says that it has the orders and demand from customers to run the plant fully with three shifts. “We’ve got jobs for three shifts at Wentzville because of strong dealer and customer demand for our midsize trucks and vans,” GM spokesperson David Barnas told the Detroit Free Press this week. So why would GM be closing a shift down?

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Our take reading between the lines and having scanned the clubs populated by GM union workers is that GM wants to pool together the employees that are coming to work. It seems that some employees have opted not to. Whether for fear of contacting COVID-19, or perhaps for a related reason (possible exposure, illness, the need to care for family are just examples). GM’s closure of the third shift is a message to employees that they need to be on the job if able. Otherwise, their fellow workers may need to be laid off. “We are working on a staffing plan that will allow us to return to three shifts as soon as possible,” Barnas said.

A union memo obtained and published by the Detroit Free Press this week adds some clarity. “I have just been notified that a third shift is going on temporary layoff very soon due to many ‘manpower’ issues! More information will be provided asap! Plans are currently being developed to minimize the impact on membership. Updates will be provided asap! This is not good! Chairman Alan Chambliss.”

Watch for updates on this topic in the coming days. Like all industries, COVID-19 has the automotive assembly business coming back online with fits and starts.