New Stellantis absentee policy punishes workers for getting medical treatment and taking their kids to the doctor

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The employees of Stellantis Corporation were notified in a January 17 letter posted in their plants that planned medical appointments and other medical occurrences will no longer be excused. Signed by Human Resources Manager Joe Boyer and Christy Shephard of Labor Relations, the letter cites the authority of Letter M8 of the 2019 Fiat Chrysler (FCA) Bargaining Agreement with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

The letter posted by Stellantis announcing their new absentee policy

The letter states that as of January 30 of this year, “the M8 language as it was nationally negotiated” will be applied. According to that section of the contract, only “urgent and immediate medical treatment” will be considered an excusable reason for absence, regardless if the employee called in ahead of time. According to the posted letter:

“Examples of what is not accepted may include, but not limited to: annual physical, colonoscopy, headaches/migraines, mammogram, physical therapy appointments, planned dentist/oral surgery (emergencies could qualify), pre-planned or follow up medical appointments with family doctor for yourself, or your child.”

The UAW agreed to this policy in the 2019 bargaining, but the above-mentioned examples of unacceptable absences do not appear in Letter M8 of the agreement. The UAW, however, is silent on this brutal attack on workers and their right to necessary health care for themselves and their children.

No reference is made to the COVID-19 pandemic, which began early in 2020, barely a month after the December 16, 2019 signing date of the contract with FCA, Stellantis’ predecessor. The company, with the active complicity of the UAW, has spent three years covering up the extent and deadly consequences of the spread of the coronavirus inside their factories. It was only due to March 2020 wildcat strikes by FCA workers who refused to work under conditions where they were risking theirs and their families’ health that production was shut down for almost two months ending in May of 2020.

At that time, the company issued public statements declaring that the health and safety of their employees is their “number one priority.” Today, in response to Stellantis’ letter, one supplemental employee told the World Socialist Web Site, “the company now says that COVID is over. What do you do if you catch it? According to them, you’re supposed to come in and work sick and infect everyone else.”

An unexcused absence is deemed an “occurrence” by management. As such it is counted against the employee. After four occurrences, temporary forced layoffs are imposed until seven such occurrences accrue within a year when it results in termination.

Autoworkers live in unstable living circumstances thanks to the steady erosion of working conditions, wages and benefits forced upon them with the collusion of the UAW over the decades.

Supplemental and temporary employees have it even worse. Though they pay dues to the UAW, they start at the poverty wage of $15.81 an hour, lower than the pay at many fast food restaurants in the area, and have limited medical benefits and no dental or optical care for themselves or their families. They also have schedules that can change from week to week, or even from day to day. A medical appointment scheduled months in advance can easily conflict with the work schedule imposed by the company on a week-to-week basis. Due to poverty level wages, in cases workers are compelled to work two jobs with virtually no time for sleep, let alone medical appointments.

Stellantis workers leave Warren Truck Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit on January 24, 2023

Workers at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant outside Detroit made their feelings about the new attendance policy known to reporters from the WSWS on Tuesday.

A young supplemental employee said, “This policy is inhumane. We are humans, not machines. When a machine in the plant breaks down, they send maintenance to fix it. But if you’re not doing well physically or mentally, they say you can’t go to the doctors without getting points for it. We’re in there making $100,000 trucks, but they don’t care about us.”

Another worker said, “People have kids, they’re denying them the chance to go to the doctor! It’s crazy! They’re threatening people with points, and people are already under mental and physical stress here. We’re not making enough, and people are damned broke here.”

A younger worker commented, “I disagree 100 percent with this policy. We all have a life outside of the plant. Going to the doctor’s or taking your kid there should be part of everyday life. Now they’re threatening your job if you take care of your health or your family’s.” 

Another employee, also a supplemental, said, “We can’t take days off or we’ll be fired. I quit another job to come here because they said you would be rolled over to full-time after two years, and that having the Wagoneer model here would guarantee our jobs. Now the crappy practices of the company have led them to shift production of the model to Mexico.” He added, “We have to make changes because the UAW leaders aren’t doing anything for us. We also need to get together with the workers in Mexico and Canada, we’re all going against those on top.” 

A full-time second tier worker told the WSWS, “We have a family who deserve good health care and good dental benefits because these companies have been profiting more and more from the work we do here. Our dental doesn’t even cover half of the stuff it used to anymore. They cut it without a warning sometimes; without us even knowing it’s been cut.

“If you have a doctor’s appointment for your child or even for yourself, sometimes they don’t want to excuse it now. But people use their FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] when they need things excused. What’s going to happen when more people do that? There goes your attendance policy. And then people can’t get FMLA when they need it later because they already used it. So it’s bad for everyone.”

She added, “Workers get scapegoated for problems with their machines, like it’s their fault that the product isn't coming out right. We get blamed for everything. I think it has something to do with the economy. Like maybe they think we’ll keep putting up with it because we can’t afford to quit.”

The brutal attendance policy is definitely connected to the economic situation and the drive by the US Federal Reserve to increase interest rates and drive the economy towards a recession. With growing demands by workers to pay increases to keep up with the decades-high inflation rate, the corporations want to use mass unemployment to further cut wages and increase the exploitation of the working class.

In the runup to this year’s contract battle by 150,000 GM, Ford and Stellantis workers, automakers have already begun to slash jobs and threaten plant closures. Stellantis has announced the “indefinite layoff” of 1,350 workers at its Belvidere Assembly Plant in Illinois, which begins in February, and has eliminated shifts and slashed jobs at a number of factories, including Trenton Engine, Warren Truck and Dundee Engine.

In October 2022, Stellantis Chief Manufacturing Officer Arnaud Deboeuf visited the Warren Truck plant and said if quality issues and absenteeism did not improve, management would remove any future products from the plant, which employs more than 5,000 workers. Rather than oppose this threat, UAW Local 140 officials sided with management and denounced workers for the “unacceptable” rate of defects and absenteeism. UAW bureaucrats then went along with the elimination of the third shift.

Denouncing the collusion of the UAW bureaucracy in these attacks, a worker with two years in the plant said, “It’s all about leadership. We have to strike and shut down the industry. We can’t accept this. But the UAW has allowed all these tiers and has let the company do whatever it wants.”

Will Lehman, the Mack Trucks worker and socialist candidate for UAW president, denounced the company’s new attendance policy. “Stellantis clearly values the profits exploited from the workers above the workers who generate them. Company officials point to the contract negotiated with the UAW in 2019, when some of the worst corruption ever made known to dues-paying members was coming to light. The UAW bureaucrats were taking bribes from Chrysler to sell us out out and former presidents Dennis Williams and Gary Jones were embezzling millions of dollars in union dues from us. They were selling us out then, and UAW President Ray Curry, International Rep Shawn Fain and the rest of the UAW bureaucracy are selling us out now.

“Autoworkers are facing the same conditions as the railroad workers with the Hi-Viz attendance policy, which forces them to be on call 24/7. Railroad workers were also sold out by union bureaucrats who worked with the Biden administration and Congress to block a strike of 120,000 workers in December and forced them to accept a contract that they had rejected.

“Workers need adequate time off to take care of ourselves and our families. But we can’t win the fight against these attendance policies if we’re not organized. That is why I am fighting for the expansion of rank-and-file committees in every factory, which will shift the power from the corrupt UAW apparatus to the workers on the shop floor. At the same time, as a socialist, I believe workers must fight to take profit out of medicine and guarantee the right to free, high quality health care for all.”