Supplier restarts flow of critical truck parts to Detroit automakers

By Ben Klayman

TOLEDO, Ohio, May 18 (Reuters) - Dana Inc (DAN), a key supplier of truck parts to Detroit automakers, restarted its Toledo plant Monday on a single shift, with one-third of its 750-person workforce and less than 1% absenteeism, according to plant manager Craig Zimmerly.

"We don't have that vibe of 'too soon.' There may be a little bit of 'okay, the mask is bothering me,'" said Zimmerly, adding that the usual absentee rate is 2-3%.

The Detroit Three automakers and their suppliers began restarting assembly lines on Monday after a two-month coronavirus lockdown in a slow revival of a sector that employs nearly 1 million people in the United States.

The Toledo plant supplies axles for such popular models as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator, and Ford Motor Co's (F) Ranger pickup. Trucks and SUVs are among the auto industry's most profitable vehicles.

Hourly workers at the plant are represented by UAW Local 12, which also represents employees at the nearby FCA Jeep plant.

Assembly technician Brandon Green, 32, of Toledo said he was "okay" with the safety precautions put in place at the plant. "I'm not really nervous. They worked with us pretty well to get us what we need," he said.

Among those precautions are staggered entrances and exits for workers, who get thermal temperature checks and are given face masks - although some have opted to wear their own facial coverings, including at least one with an American flag motif. Throughout the plant, yellow Xs remind people where to stand for proper social distancing.

Workers are responsible for cleaning their immediate work areas at the beginning and end of each shift. Overnight, a maintenance crew cleans and disinfects the plant with fogging machines.

The plant's UAW shop chairman, 61-year-old Mark Popovich of Toledo, said, "We've got a good mood today. Everybody understands that we have to go back to work. It was better than we all thought. You don't hear too many negatives."

In mid-afternoon trade, Dana shares were up more than 11%.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Toledo, Ohio Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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