A week after the death of crane operator Terry Garr at the Sterling Stamping Plant of Stellantis, north of Detroit, the World Socialist Web Site’s Autoworker newsletter learned that another worker, mill builder Mark Bruce, has died from COVID-19. Several sources confirmed the death of a reporting team during a shift change on Tuesday afternoon.
Sterling Stamping, the largest automobile stamping plant in the world, saw the largest increase in new infections in a month in March, with 28 confirmed cases, compared to an entire month of February. That coincided with a record spike in cases across the state of Michigan, largely due to the reopening of schools. The Autoworker newsletter had previously learned of severe cases at the facility that required hospitalization, but this is the first confirmed death at the facility.
Sterling Stamping Worker (WSWS Media)
While United Auto Workers Local 1264 has posted several obituaries of auto workers and their family members in the past two months, Bruce’s death remains to be reported. A worker said the UAW and the company had withheld information about COVID-19 outbreaks at the plant. He said he had known Mark Bruce for a long time. “Mark died of COVID last Friday and nothing is said about it. I only found out about it because another worker texted me.
“We sometimes receive notifications of new COVID cases seven times a week. But they do not say where and which workers could have been exposed. “
Nationwide, the UAW has helped management to darken infections and deaths in car factories so as not to cause “panic”. This prevents workers potentially exposed to the deadly virus from taking the necessary steps to protect themselves, their employees and their families, and to ensure even more infections and deaths. In addition to covering up infections, management also penalizes workers who contract the virus or who stay home with symptoms, and encourages workers to report to work if they are sick.
Amid widespread anger over the death of Garr, who was crushed to death during a dice game at the end of his shift last week, the UAW went into damage control on Tuesday and announced a sign, one minute of silence per shift, to Garr on April 28th to honor Workers Memorial Day.
While workers want to know the truth about the circumstances that led to his death, LaShawn English, the local president, offered prayers and condolences in a statement posted on UAW Local 1264’s Facebook page at the plant, but no new information about the tragedy. English also failed to set out what steps the UAW is taking to investigate Garr’s death or provide information to encourage workers to come forward.
A preliminary report from the Michigan Occupational and Health Administration (MIOSHA) shows that Garr staged a cube that was lifted by a crane. However, the die was not aligned with the positioning pins.
While the crane operator was standing between the die and the press, he maneuvered the die onto the support pin. “The misalignment of the hoist with the center of the die caused the die to swing to its home position, causing the die to hit the crane operator,” the report said. Garr was taken to an area hospital where he later died, according to Sterling Heights police.
According to the Macomb Daily, which originally reported the preliminary results, it may take months to produce a full report from MIOSHA.
One employee who turned to the World Socialist Web Site’s Autoworker newsletter after the accident suggested the tragedy was due to management pressuring tool setters to “disregard production safety.” The fatal accident was due, the worker wrote, because “management was in a hurry and under pressure[ing] The setters need to hurry and do a job that management assigned towards the end of the shift. “
While Bruce and Garr died from different reasons, the common factor behind both deaths is management’s determination to keep production in the pandemic’s teeth. While Stellantis, like the other major automakers, has been forced to shut down much of its production due to a global chip shortage, the company is determined to maintain the Sterling Stamping Plant, which produces critical body parts for much of the company’s North American assembly plants at all costs.
Across the street from the Sterling Heights assembly plant, which makes the company’s best-selling and highly profitable Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck, production workers have been forced over time for most of the year, and the craft are working on a brutal new 12- Hourly day, 7 days a week work schedule.
During a shift change on Tuesday, workers said Garr’s death at the time of rising COVID-19 infections underscores the fact that workers take their lives into their own hands every day they come to work. “We sign up for risks every day we work here,” said one.
Another said, “I have heard from other workers who said when the manager first heard about the accident, he asked if Garr was wearing a hard hat when he died, as if that had saved him.
Apart from that: “We haven’t heard anything. Maybe he was working alone when he shouldn’t have. Maybe they rushed him to quit a job. All I know is that it will be covered up and we will not be told anything. “
The situation at Sterling Stamping underscores the urgent need for a four-week national production stoppage, a request made in a statement by the Autoworker Rank-and-File Safety Committee Network. This is necessary not only to prevent new infections of plants from spreading to surrounding communities, but to put an end to the ruthless and dangerous regime of acceleration and overtime that management, with support from the UAW, is imposing.
A senior worker at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant commented, “In March last year workers stopped the line and it saved lives. We did it out of sheer fear. We were afraid for our lives and that of our families and asked: “Doesn’t anyone hear us?” Six workers at Warren Truck died and the company and the union did nothing. The UAW are the spies and muscles of management. You are totally corrupt and argue with the bosses.
“Workers killed in the factory and dying of COVID are like returning to the migrant textile workers who were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911. It took many tragedies for things to change. Today there is tragedy and no improvement. Now we have two entities against us, the UAW and the company. “
We urge workers to support the Sterling Heights Assembly Security Committee’s call for a full and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Terry Garr’s death on Sunday. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.