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UAW President: Coronavirus shows the US ‘let too much’ manufacturing leave

Max Zahn with Andy Serwer
·3 mins read

When the initial spread of the new coronavirus exposed a shortage of U.S. medical equipment, car companies Ford (F) and General Motors (GM) pivoted to produce an eventual 80,000 ventilators — efforts that both companies concluded this week.

But the automakers will continue to produce personal protective equipment, or PPE, since a shortage still plagues U.S. hospitals, endangering patients and workers alike.

The struggle to mobilize U.S. production of necessary equipment in response to the pandemic illustrates the nation’s failure to keep manufacturers from going abroad, said Rory Gamble, president of the United Auto Workers, whose 400,000 members includes workers at Ford and GM.

”This pandemic has showed us that we've let too much of our manufacturing go out of this country, and we no longer control it,” Gamble tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief in an appearance alongside Ford CEO Jim Hackett on the series “Yahoo Finance Presents.

“This pandemic has truly highlighted the importance of American manufacturing,” he adds. “Not only autos but medical equipment, prescriptions.”

United Auto Workers (UAW) acting president Rory Gamble speaks to Reuters from his office in Southfield, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2019.   REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
United Auto Workers (UAW) acting president Rory Gamble speaks to Reuters from his office in Southfield, Michigan, U.S. November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

On Friday, Ford announced it aims to produce 100 million face masks through 2021 for communities across the U.S. with limited access to PPE. The company currently produces 2.5 million face masks each week, it said.

“This will help us get kids back to school, because there's a reliability with these masks that is unquestioned,” Hackett says. “So we're going to see that all the way through until this thing is done.”

The company released on Friday a short documentary from director Peter Berg about its pivot to the production of PPE. Berg also appeared in the interview with Yahoo Finance.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a protective face mask with a presidential seal on it that he said he had been wearing earlier in his tour as Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Hackett looks on. REUTERS/Leah Millis
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a protective face mask with a presidential seal on it that he said he had been wearing earlier in his tour as Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Hackett looks on. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Allies of President Donald Trump cited the role of U.S. manufacturing in the coronavirus response several times at the Republican National Convention last week, but critics have argued that Trump was too slow to invoke the Defense Production Act, a law enacted in 1950 that allows the president to force American manufacturers to produce materials in the name of national defense.

The UAW has endorsed Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who last month released a $700 billion plan to bolster U.S. manufacturing.

“I'm very proud of Ford Motor Company with the amount of manufacturing they've maintained in America when they could have off-shored a lot of product and made even more profit,” Gamble says. “So that's to be commended.”

“It's a great example for every other manufacturer as well that they should be doing the same thing,” he adds. “Sell here, build here, and employ great American workers in building and supporting America.”

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