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Chicago Heights Ford Plant Reopens Monday As Workers Wear COVID-19 'Distance' Watches

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Thousands of Chicago-area Ford workers will be back on the job come Monday.

It comes with new safety measures and adjusted shifts. But the end of the layoff is welcome news.

CBS 2's Chris Tye reports the new technology the automaker is using to keep these workers safe.

Some will be wearing watches not to tell time, but to tell if you're too close to your co-workers. And that's just the beginning of the new normal.

Workers need a green light on these temperature checks machines to get the green light to enter ford's two Chicago-area plants.

The stamping plant in Chicago Heights and the assembly plant in the city that makes the Explorer and the Aviator.

"Everybody is also wearing watches that buzz if your get within six feet of somebody else," said Bill Ford, Executive Chairman.

Proximity watches tell distance, not time. Made by Samsung, the prototype records who you worked near during a shift. Helpful information to trace workers who later get sick.

In addition to dividers, there will be masks, gloves and face shields. Workflow on the assembly-line also being retooled.

"We used to have two people in a vehicle on the assembly line. We stopped that," added Ford.

They've also stopped three-shift workdays, dropping to two. In all, 12,000 North American workers will be back on Monday. That third shift expected to come back online June 15.

In Chicago, this means most of the 5,600 assembly plant workers laid off two months ago can start drawing a paycheck again. Most, not all.

"Not everyone is back at the same density as they were before," said Ford CEO Jim Hackett. "As we get control of this, to assure the safety, we are in the midst of making this economy come back."

Ford leadership is bullish on the future, despite the rocky economy. Saying never has controlling the cleanliness of your mode of transportation been so attractive to a consumer.

The Fiat Chrysler plant in Belvediere is expected to reopen June 1.

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