Masks are back at U.S. auto plants, but no vaccine requirements

WASHINGTON — Detroit’s Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union reinstated requirements to wear masks at all U.S. plants, offices and warehouses beginning on Wednesday, but are not requiring workers to be vaccinated.

The move is in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) change in COVID-19 guidance for masks for fully vaccinated people related to the Delta variant, General Motors, Ford  and Chrysler parent Stellantis said in a joint statement with the union.

Toyota said effective Wednesday it will reinstate mask requirements at nearly all U.S. facilities, with the exception of two Michigan facilities that are in counties with moderate transmission rates.

Nissan also said Tuesday it was reinstating its mask requirements for all U.S. employees. Volkswagen AG said it was requiring masks at U.S. facilities in COVID-19 hot spots, while Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz U.S. unit said it had reinstated mask requirements at U.S. plants late last week.

The UAW does not support requiring all workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19, and U.S. automakers have not mandated vaccines. The union and automakers are strongly encouraging workers to get vaccinated.

“We are urging all UAW members and their families to get vaccinated. The science is telling us very clearly that the only way to get back to normal is to reach a heightened level of immunity,” UAW President Ray Curry told members in a letter Tuesday. “However, we also know that for some, there are religious and health reasons for not getting vaccinated.”

The CDC said last week fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in public spaces in places with substantial or high COVID-19 community transmission rates. The CDC said on Monday that almost 80% of U.S. counties are now at those levels.

In June, the U.S. automakers and UAW announced that fully vaccinated workers at their U.S. factories would not have to wear masks on the job beginning on July 12. Numerous automakers operating in the United States had already begun lifting pandemic mask mandates as cases declined.

Other companies as well as federal, state and local governments are putting more pressure on individuals to get vaccinated. New York City on Tuesday said it will require proof of vaccination for people engaged in indoor activities such as dining, working out in a gym, or seeing a show.

Meat packer Tyson Foods said it will require workers to get COVID vaccinations, joining companies including Walt Disney Co and Walmart Inc in instituting such a requirement for some parts of their workforces.

U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered workers at federal agencies to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing.

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