LANSING – President Donald Trump's pending tour of a Ford Motor Co. plant in Ypsilanti is "contrary" to new workplace safety rules imposed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but her administration is nonetheless welcoming the visit.
Recent executive orders issued by Whitmer require newly reopened manufacturers to "suspend all non-essential in-person visits, including tours" to protect workers from the novel coronavirus that has so far killed 4,915 in Michigan.
Trump is set to tour Ford's Rawsonville plant in Ypsilanti on Thursday. The factory typically assembles components but has been reconfigured amid the pandemic to produce ventilators and personal protection equipment for front-line health care workers.
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"Ford and the UAW are doing incredible work for the country, and their ingenuity will save lives," Whitmer communications director Zack Pohl told Bridge Magazine in a statement.
"While the president's visit is contrary to the governor's order, this is an opportunity to showcase how important Michigan is to the response to COVID-19 and rebuilding our nation's economy."
Whitmer first suspended tours in a May 7 order that allowed manufacturers to reopen May 11, and she reinforced that prohibition with new workplace safety rules issued Monday in response to the pandemic. Trump’s visit to the plant was first reported Sunday by Crain’s Detroit Business.
The Democratic governor is not expected to join the tour with the Republican president, who has criticized Whitmer and referred to her as “that woman from Michigan.”
Pohl said the Whitmer administration expects "Ford and the president to comply with workplace safety requirements, including the use of masks."
Trump did not wear a mask last week while touring a medical equipment distribution center in Pennsylvania that is producing N95 masks, surgical gowns and gloves for hospitals around the country.
White House officials reportedly defended the decision because Trump is tested daily for coronavirus.
Whitmer's workplace safety order requires businesses that she's allowed to reopen to provide face coverings to their employees. They must require workers wear those face coverings in areas they cannot consistently maintain six feet of separation from colleagues.
In a May 1 document, Ford said face masks must be worn by anyone — employees, visitors, contractors and vendors — in all of its facilities.
The Dearborn-based automaker this week confirmed it is set to host Trump on Thursday, saying the White House requested the visit "as part of the president's tour to thank businesses producing PPE and important medical equipment."
In a statement, Ford said it is "proud to assemble more vehicles in the U.S. than any other automaker" and welcomes Thursday's visit by Trump "as part of Ford's longstanding history of hosting sitting presidents and senior government leaders."
Ford spokesperson Rachel McCleery deferred to the Whitmer administration on interpretation of the governor's executive order. But she said the automaker has "shared with the White House all of Ford’s safety protocols, including our self-assessment, thermal scanning and manufacturing playbook which outlines our policy that everyone wears (personal protection equipment)."
Whitmer's workplace safety order is enforceable by state departments, and companies that violate the rules are subject to penalties under the Michigan Occupational and Health Act. Serious violations can lead to a fine of up to $7,000, while repeat violations are punishable by a fine of up to $70,000.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration declined to discuss whether Trump’s visit could subject Ford to enforcement action.
“At this point, I’m not going to speculate on [an] event that has yet to take place,” said Jason Moon of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. “We do expect Michigan employers to follow all health and safety standards.”
Pohl also declined to comment, saying it "wouldn't be appropriate for me to speculate on MIOSHA enforcement."
Whitmer, whose name has been floated as a possible vice presidential candidate to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, has clashed with Trump over the federal response to the pandemic.
"The White House has not extended an invitation to the governor to attend his event in Michigan," Whitmer spokesperson Chelsea Lewis said Monday. "The governor is currently planning to volunteer at a school Thursday to deliver meals to local children and their families."