Unifor and the Ontario government are in discussions with each of the Detroit automakers to administer a day of voluntary COVID-19 testing for autoworkers and their families, union president Jerry Dias said.
“It’s a one-day thing where our members can come in — and, frankly, their families, as well — and get tested,” Dias said. “For those who want to get tested, it’ll be there.”
A spokeswoman for FCA Canada confirmed that the automaker is in “ongoing discussions with the Ontario government” but declined to provide details. A Ford of Canada spokeswoman, meanwhile, confirmed that the automaker has met with the union and the government “about making on-site voluntary testing available to Ford employees.”
“It’s still very early in the discussions,” Ford of Canada spokeswoman Lauren More wrote in an email. “No decisions have been reached.”
Requests for comment from General Motors Canada were not returned. However, the automaker previously told Automotive News Canada it would offer up a parking lot at its Oshawa plant for drive-through testing for the region.
A spokesperson for Ontario Health confirmed that discussions with Unifor “are currently underway for providing COVID-19 testing to autoworkers and their families,” promising to provide “further details when they become available.”
The discussions come as the Detroit automakers ramp up North American production while attempting to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among its factory workers. Prevention efforts have thus far included daily health checks, temperature screenings and the implementation of social distancing rules.
Dias said he has had phone calls with Ontario Health CEO Matt Anderson and executives at the Detroit automakers to set up testing facilities for a day at their workplaces throughout the province.
“They are working on a process where they, in essence, set up a MASH unit,” Dias said. “It’s being facilitated with us and the provincial government. They would set up for a full day.”
The testing program, should it come to pass, would be the first chance for widespread testing among Canadian autoworkers at large. The discussions come as Ontario looks to boost its daily testing figures, which have at times fallen short of targets.
The province unveiled a COVID-19 testing strategy in May that focused on testing staff and inmates at correctional facilities, workers at some hospitals, first responders in Toronto, residents and staff at retirement homes, people in long-term care homes and workers at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Premier Doug Ford had earlier said he wanted to boost testing in “areas of the automotive sector,” though the plan ultimately did not include the industry.
GM Canada told Automotive News Canada in late May that it supported the premier’s call to implement mass COVID-19 testing.
“Getting tested is almost a new civic duty for us,” said David Paterson, GM Canada vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs.
Dave Cassidy, president of Unifor Local 444, which represents members at FCA’s minivan plant in Windsor, Ont., questioned the wisdom of mass testing.
“In my opinion, you would have to test every day because today I could test negative and tomorrow, I could have COVID,” Cassidy said in a recent interview. “Even when they do find the vaccine, people aren’t [necessarily] going to get it. Personally, I don’t get the flu shot, that’s my decision. I don’t know if I’ll get the vaccine for COVID.”
Dias said Unifor has not asked automakers for “in-house testing [of workers] on an ongoing basis.” The United Auto Workers union in the United States, meanwhile, has been pushing for workers to be tested at regular intervals until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, though testing on that scale is not yet available.
“We see ourselves probably in this mode for another year, realistically maybe a year and a half,” UAW President Rory Gamble told Automotive News. “We’re dug in for the long haul. Where we have to shut down going forward to make sure the facility is clean and safe, we intend to engage in that type of activity to protect life.”
Greg Layson, Michael Martinez and the Canadian Press contributed to this report.