DETROIT — When Ford Motor Co. hosts President Donald Trump on Thursday for a tour of its Rawsonville components operation near Detroit, the automaker will be doing so in technical violation of an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer prohibiting “nonessential” plant tours. But her office signaled it would not stand in the way of the visit.
Whitmer’s new coronavirus pandemic workplace regulations for businesses laid out in Executive Order No. 2020-91 states that “manufacturing facilities must … suspend all non-essential in-person visits, including tours.”
A spokesman for Whitmer confirmed Tuesday that this provision applies to Ford, which is hosting the presidential visit Thursday to show Trump its auto parts plant that was quickly converted to assembling ventilators in partnership with GE Healthcare.
But there’s no indication Michigan’s governor — and potential running mate for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden — is going to prevent the Republican president from touring the 1.7 million-square-foot plant, where UAW members normally produce Ford vehicle parts for transmissions, fuel pumps, air induction systems, ignitions and batteries.
“Ford and the UAW are doing incredible work for the country, and their ingenuity will save lives,” Whitmer spokesman Zack Pohl said in an email to Crain’s Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News. “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.”
Ford on Tuesday reiterated its policy that all visitors to its manufacturing plants must wear a mask but said the White House will ultimately decide if the president will comply during a planned visit this week.
The automaker issued a revised statement late on Tuesday that signaled it may allow Trump to violate a policy it spent weeks locking in to allow it to operate its plants safely.
“Our policy is that everyone wears PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Ford spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said on Tuesday. “The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination.”
The company’s policy handbook to address the coronavirus pandemic, released May 1, says flatly that face masks must be worn “at all times” at U.S. manufacturing plants by all employees and “all visitors.”
McCleery said the company “shared all of Ford’s safety protocols, including our manufacturing playbook, employee pamphlet and self-assessment survey with the White House ahead of time and in preparation for this trip.”
Asked whether he will wear a mask when he visits Ford, Trump said that “where it’s appropriate I would do it.” The decision depends on the situation and if he would be “standing right next to everybody,” he added.
Trump did not wear a mask last Thursday when he toured a Owens & Minor Inc. medical equipment distribution center in Allentown, Pa. He also didn’t wear a mask when he toured a Honeywell International Inc. mask factory in Phoenix, Ariz., according to published reports.
McCleery deferred to the governor’s office for interpretation of her executive order.
The ban on plant tours is not new.
Whitmer included it in a May 7 order (Executive Order No. 2020-77) allowing the state’s construction industry to restart. In rescinding that order Monday, the governor wrote in a new order that “I find it reasonable and necessary to reaffirm the measures set forth in Executive Order 2020-77.”
Ford and GE have set a goal of manufacturing 50,000 ventilators by mid-July in response to a need to help replenish the nation’s stockpile of life-saving ventilators.
The automaker said Sunday in a statement that Trump will visit the 64-year-old parts plant near Detroit Metropolitan Airport “as part of the president’s tour to thank businesses producing PPE and important medical equipment.”
“We’re proud to assemble more vehicles in the U.S. than any other automaker and welcome Thursday’s visit as part of Ford’s longstanding history of hosting sitting presidents and senior government leaders,” the company said in a statement.
Whitmer’s office said Monday that the White House had not invited her to attend Thursday’s event and that the governor is planning to volunteer at a school that day distributing meals to children and their families.
Reuters contributed to this report.