(Adds comments from GM, UAW statement, UAW national office, details, background, byline)
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, June 30 (Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Tuesday its highly profitable SUV assembly plant in Arlington, Texas, remains open despite a request by union leaders to close the plant given the spiking rate of COVID-19 infections in the wider community.
“The issue for them at least as they have described it is not so much what’s happening in the plant, but what’s happening in the community,” GM spokesman Jim Cain said, of United Auto Workers Local 276. No changes have been made to production plans as plant safety protocols are working, he added.
GM has had positive tests for COVID-19 infections at the Texas plant, but the No. 1 U.S. automaker believes they were contracted outside the plant, said Cain, who declined to say how many have tested positive.
“There will be positive cases until there’s a cure and you try your absolute best to use screening to keep people out of the plant but it’s imperfect. That’s why you have all these multiple levels of protection,” he added, citing social distancing, use of masks and face shields, disinfecting work sites and other approaches.
The plant builds GM’s large SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, and GMC Yukon - among the most profitable vehicles GM builds.
UAW Local 276 said on Monday the local’s bargaining committee had asked GM to close the plant “until the curve is flattened” on the coronavirus outbreak in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Texas has seen record spikes in new COVID-19 infections.
“Every day we are setting new records in the number of people who are testing positive in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Local 276 said in a message posted on the union’s website.
Local 276 officials could not be reached for further comment.
The UAW’s national office is working with local union leaders and GM to resolve any issues, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said. (Reporting by Ben Klayman Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)