Apr 24, 2020 - Economy & Business

Auto workers want more testing before reopening economy

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Unionized auto workers say General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler shouldn't restart production until there is sufficient testing to show it is safe to go back to work.

Why it matters: President Trump and a handful of governors are pushing to reopen the economy, while losses mount at companies whose operations are suspended. But consumers are wary about lifting stay-at-home restrictions too soon, and if worried employees don't show up either, it will be next to impossible to get America back up and running any time soon.

What's happening: Many automakers had been targeting May 4 to begin a gradual ramp up of production under strict new health safety protocols (See item 4 below). GM and Ford had not announced a date, but were expected to launch around the same time.

  • Some of those plans started to unravel late in the week as governors in manufacturing-heavy states, including Illinois and Michigan, signaled they would extend their stay-at-home orders beyond April 30.
  • Both are part of a seven-state Midwestern regional plan to reopen businesses.

The UAW wants to see more testing before plants reopen, telling companies that early May is "too soon and too risky" for its members.

  • "At this point in time, the UAW does not believe the scientific data is conclusive that it is safe to have our members back in the workplace," said UAW President Rory Gamble in a statement Thursday.
  • "We have not done enough testing to really understand the threat our members face."

The big picture: Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, says the U.S. is "just not there yet" in terms of reaching the testing capacity needed to reopen large parts of the economy.

  • Trump told reporters Thursday that he doesn't agree with Fauci's assessment. "I think we're doing a great job on testing," the president said.
  • The number of coronavirus tests being completed daily is not enough to relax stay-at-home orders, medical experts say.
  • A number of governors said this week that there are shortages of key testing ingredients like swabs and reagents that are preventing their states from meeting demand.

Between the lines: The UAW, while smaller and less powerful than back in its heyday, still has the clout to influence industry decisions.

  • Not so for many non-union employees; if they fail to show up for work because they're afraid of getting sick, they could be out of a job.
  • It's why the coronavirus is inspiring a new labor movement to draw attention to the health risks employees face at work during the pandemic.
  • "Union representation is not just about wages and benefits. It's about the terms of work," says Kristin Dziczek, vice president of Industry, Labor & Economics at the Center for Automotive Research.

The bottom line: It could be several more weeks — or longer — until the auto industry starts up again.

Go deeper

House Democrats pull FISA reauthorization bill

Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

House Democrats pulled legislation Thursday that would have renewed expired domestic surveillance laws and strengthened transparency and privacy protections amid broad opposition from President Trump, House GOP leadership and progressive Democrats.

Why it matters: The failure to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) comes as Trump continues to hammer the intelligence community, which he claims abused the law to surveil his 2016 campaign and Trump administration officials.

U.S. GDP drop revised lower to 5% in the first quarter

Data: Bureau of Economic Analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. economy shrunk by an annualized 5% in the first quarter — 0.2% worse than initially estimated — according to revised figures released by the government on Thursday.

Why it matters: It's the worst quarterly decline since 2008 and shows a huge hit as the economy was just beginning to shut down because of the coronavirus. Economists are bracing for the second quarter's figures to be the worst ever — with some projecting an annualized decline of around 40%.

14 mins ago - Economy & Business

The end of the beginning on energy companies' net-zero carbon pledges

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Activist investors' push to make the world's largest energy companies commit to ambitious climate targets is entering a new phase.

Why it matters: A key thing to watch now is whether and how energy giants start providing more granular information on how to transform the pledges into concrete steps.