The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant’s Autoworker Safety Committee will have a meeting: “For a four-week emergency shutdown of SHAP and other auto plants!” On Sunday, April 25th at 1:00 pm Eastern Time. Sign up here.
On Wednesday, crane operator Terry Garr died in an industrial accident at the Stellantis Sterling Stamping Plant north of Detroit. The death was confirmed in brief statements by Stellantis and the United Auto Workers on Thursday.
Sources inside the plant told the World Socialist Web Site’s Autoworker Newsletter that Garr was knocked down by a heavy die towards the end of his shift. This was confirmed later that evening by a police report from the Detroit Free Press.
Sterling Stamping Plant staff remove a minivan’s roof after it has been stamped in a 180-inch transfer press (Stellantis Media).
It is unclear how Garr could have been crushed by a cube lifted by a crane he operated. However, according to a worker who wished to remain anonymous, management rushed to rush the dice setters in Garr’s area to finish their work before the end of their shift.
Garr is at least the second worker to be killed in an accident at work at a Detroit auto company punching line this year. In January, Mark McKnight was crushed to death by a 7,000-pound steel wall that had fallen from a forklift.
In November 2020, David Spano was killed in a similar accident at parts supplier Romeo RIM in Romeo, Michigan. Spano died when a 12-ton mold fell from a wall.
While the specific circumstances of Garr’s death are not yet known, the chaotic and inherently dangerous situation at auto plants made such fatalities more likely as automakers scramble to keep production going despite widespread microchip shortages and the spread of COVID to hold -19.
This has been particularly serious at Stellantis plants since the company was founded in January from a merger between Fiat Chrysler and French automaker PSA. “It’s horrible that a man has died in the factory, but not surprising,” a senior worker at the nearby Stellantis Warren Truck Assembly Plant told the WSWS. “They are sending workers to all areas of the plant because of labor shortages, and many workers are unaware of the safety or COVID protocols in those areas.
“They are little workers because so many are sick. Some people are even afraid to get the vaccine because if you get sick and need time off, the company will only keep it if you are sick. One worker got the shot and felt terrible, but they wouldn’t let her go home because she didn’t have free time.
“They’re also TPTs (part-time workers) everywhere, working in departments they … don’t know about. They don’t speak to the union because they don’t have rights. We work at a large facility and four or five workers have died of COVID since the pandemic started. Nobody should be there now because the Michigan pandemic is so bad. “
Across the street from Sterling Stamping at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP), production workers worked six days a week for most of the year keeping production of the company’s best-selling, highly profitable Dodge Ram 1500 pickups up and running.
Skilled craftsmen at SHAP have also switched to a new alternative work schedule, which consists of seven 12-hour days per week and seven days off. This creates the conditions under which fatigue and burnout can lead to dangerous situations.
Stellantis has been forced to shut down other facilities across the country to respond to the global semiconductor shortage that has decimated production in the auto industry. Warren Truck was idle earlier this month, and two out of three shifts at the Jefferson North assembly plant are due to be laid off in late April.
Sterling Stamping workers stack interior door panels as they roll off the line (Stellantis Media)
However, management has apparently made the decision that SHAP and Sterling Stamping must continue to operate regardless of the cost. Chips and even temporary workers from Warren Truck were relocated north along Mound Road to Sterling Heights during the plant’s shutdown. Jefferson workers are reportedly set to follow suit.
Sterling stamping is no less important to businesses. The largest stamping plant in the world produces body parts for many of the Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep brands. Even a temporary cessation of production at the plant would force the majority of Stellantis’ North American operations to close.
The plants remain operational despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, which has soared to its highest level in the state of Michigan. The auto industry has not released any new statewide death or infection figures for nearly a year. However, Bloomberg reported last week that nearly 10 percent of the SHAP workforce was either quarantined or after testing positive.
Sterling Stamping hit its highest level in a month in March with 28 confirmed infections. The Autoworker newsletter learned that at least some of these cases required hospitalization.
According to UAW Local 1264’s Facebook page, which has been dominated by obituaries in recent weeks, Garr is the third active worker at the factory to have died since early March. The union has not disclosed the cause of death for the other two workers.
The UAW’s response to Garr’s death, as well as all deaths from COVID-19, has been indifference combined with total cover-up. Local 1264 confirmed the death in a short, misspelled Facebook post stating, “We are losing a UAW 1264 member today,” without informing workers that Garr had died in an accident at the plant. The union announced that grief counseling would be available to workers at the plant – production would continue as planned.
In brief remarks to the Free Press, UAW President Rory Gamble portrayed death as a tragedy for which no one was particularly responsible. “Today one of our members is not going to return home because of an injury at work,” Gamble said politely.
UAW Vice President for Stellantis, Cindy Estrada, stated that the union “is working with our joint health and safety department of the UAW and Stellantis to obtain more information about this fatal industrial accident and to assist our local 1264 brothers and sisters during this crisis “. In other words, the UAW is working with Stellantis to protect them from any responsibility.
The death at Sterling Stamping only underscores the need for a four-week emergency shutdown with full compensation for laid-off workers, a demand made last week by the Auto Worker’s Safety Committee network in response to major outbreaks in the Detroit area of auto plants.
Not only are workers facing a massive spike in new COVID-19 infections, but an inexorable acceleration from companies and the UAW wearing down their bodies and putting their lives at risk. A four-week shutdown would not only allow workers to maintain social distance to fight the spread of the virus, but also allow them to recover after months of forced overtime and prevent other horrific workplace deaths from occurring.
The fight for an emergency shutdown requires workers to organize themselves in the UAW independently of the bought and paid corporate agents. “The union is not saying not to return to work because of COVID,” said the Warren truck worker. “You don’t do anything about being transferred to foreign departments. They have these outbreaks in the factories and meat packers, but the companies are killing and they don’t care. They boast that they are making a profit, but at the cost of how many lives? “
From the global pandemic to the global class struggle
2021 International online rally on May 1st
Saturday, May 1, at 11 a.m. Eastern Time. Streamed at wsws.org/mayday.