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Workers report dangerous outbreak at Fiat Chrysler transmission factory in Indiana

Fiat Chrysler workers at the company’s Tipton, Indiana, transmission plant are reporting that the coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably throughout the 800,000 square-foot plant, located 40 miles north of the state capital of Indianapolis. According to company data, approximately 930 production and salaried workers are employed at the plant, which produces nine-speed transmissions for vehicles produced by FCA around the world.

Like other US Midwestern states, Indiana has seen a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths over the past several weeks, with a record high 6,654 infections on Thursday, surpassing the record 5,156 cases set the day before. Indiana hospitals were treating 2,569 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, health officials said, the most at any point during the pandemic and a 200 percent increase since Governor Eric Holcomb lifted nearly all coronavirus-related restrictions in late September.

Workers on the line at Tipton Transmission (FCA) in Tipton, Indiana, May 13, 2014 (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

The Republican governor said Wednesday that he would put new restrictions in place starting November 15 in 87 of the state’s 92 counties with high levels of community spread. This includes limiting gatherings to less than 25 in red color-coded counties (over 15 percent positivity rates) and to less than 50 in orange-coded counties (10-14.9 percent). The restrictions do not include churches and do nothing more than urge local officials to “consider” limiting the hours of bars, nightclubs and restaurants. At the same time, Holcomb has steadfastly refused to close factories and schools, which are major vectors for the spread of the deadly disease, which has infected 234,000 state residents and killed 4,813.

“COVID-19 is out of control in the Tipton plant, and nobody will help us, the workers,” a veteran worker at the plant wrote in a message to the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter. “People are being forced to come to work and sacrifice themselves and their families. I take care of an elderly parent who is in very bad shape and I have to work around people who know they have COVID-19 but are afraid to say anything. How could a person live with themselves if they contract this virus and took it home and killed people in their families?

“We hear there have been as many as 119 cases in the plant over the last three weeks and more than 300 over the last three months. All we can go by is what the floor boss and union stewards tell us. There is no way to confirm the numbers because nothing is made public. The Community Howard Regional Health hospital in Kokomo has a COVID-19 tent set up and the company is sending workers there to be tested.”

Daily new cases in Indiana (Indiana Department of Health)

A spokesperson for Howard Regional told the WSWS that the hospital, like those across Indiana, has seen a sharp increase in COVID-19 positive patients over the last two weeks. He would not, however, confirm whether these included Fiat Chrysler workers from the Tipton plant or the company’s larger transmission plants in Kokomo.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard, Tipton County had a seven-day average positivity rate of 13.5 percent, nearly 30 percent higher than the state’s 10.5 percent average and the 7.7 percent rate in neighboring Howard County, which includes Kokomo.

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