Automakers, dealers, suppliers to review mask mandates

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week removed most mask mandates for fully vaccinated Americans, automakers and dealership groups are assessing their own protocols.

Most haven’t gone mask-free yet as they await state and local guidance and additional information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the companies said.

Face masks and social distancing have been required at plants and many dealerships since last spring as part of an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Automakers have said the protocol has been largely effective in reducing community spread at the plants, and as vaccines have become available over the past several months, automakers hosted on-site vaccination clinics to provide easy access to the shots for employees.

The UAW said in a statement last week that it was reviewing the CDC’s new protocols but asked workers to follow existing procedures for now.

“We are working to clearly understand these new CDC guidelines and coordinating with the companies. Our position is, as always, what is best to keep our members safe,” UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement Friday.

General Motors’ position on masks is also unchanged as it awaits guidance from OSHA, a spokesman said.

“GM remains steadfast on our COVID-19 safety protocols until we are confident that any revisions continue to support employees’ health and safety while ensuring compliance with applicable federal and state rules,” the automaker said in a statement.

GM has encouraged employees to get vaccinated and helped provide access to vaccines by hosting vaccination clinics run by local health departments at GM facilities.

“In encouraging vaccination, we’ve consistently shared with employees that immunity is the best path towards determining when GM may be able to relax or rescind certain COVID-19 safety protocols,” the automaker said.

Stellantis, the new parent company for the merged Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group, is standing by its current protocols.

“As Stellantis continues to strongly advocate that our employees get vaccinated and has been facilitating vaccine administration, we will continue to mandate the use of masks in our facilities, in combination with our other health and safety protocols, for the foreseeable future as they have been proven to protect our employees,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Ford Motor Co. also said it would keep existing mask policies in place for now, Bloomberg reported last week.

Dealers, suppliers

A spokesman for publicly traded Penske Automotive Group Inc. on Monday said mask standards for its stores are evolving. Penske is the second-largest dealership group based in the U.S., based on its 2020 new-vehicle sales.

“Where permissible we are mask-free, however, we will continue to follow all local and state requirements and adjust as new information/guidance is disseminated,” Penske spokesman Anthony Pordon wrote in an email.

Diversified auto supplier Tenneco Inc. said it will be updating its safety protocols.

“Prior to the CDC updated guidance we were in the process of increasing the emphasis on vaccination status within our program,” the suburban Chicago-based company said in an emailed statement. “We feel the CDC guidance helps support that effort and we will accelerate the updating of our safety protocols for our team members.

“Of course we are committed to ensuring full compliance with local requirements and because we operate in so many locations around the world,  we do not expect a one size fits all solution.”

David Stork, head of human resources and legal at Lithia Motors Inc., said in a statement:

“We have to make sure that we’re pragmatic in following the applicable guidance. Our focus is really around the state interpretation and enforcement. Our [general managers] are empowered to make the right decisions to protect their employees and customers.”

Melissa Burden, Vince Bond, Jackie Charniga and Alexa St. John contributed to this report.

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