CHICAGO (CBS) — Who can forget the toilet paper shortage of 2020 – shelves left empty after COVID-19 shut down factories, leaving us all scrambling for a square?
Fast forward to 2021 and there is a new shortage – and it is sidelining workers across the country at auto plants. As CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reported, the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant at 126th Street and Torrence Avenue sat idle for eight weeks.READ MORE: Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott Gives $5 Million To Chicago's Kennedy-King College
One of the three shifts came back on Monday after being laid off for those nearly two months.
We wanted to know — was that a sign of recovery, or just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to these kinds of layoffs?
The hustle and bustle was brought to a standstill thanks to a worldwide scarcity of crucial computer semiconductor chips.
“This chip shortage kind of shut everything down,” said Ford worker William Cowart.
“You just don’t know from day to day what’s actually going to happen,” said Ford worker Krystal Edwards.
Workers like Cowart and Edwards had to live off unemployment for the duration.
“And that’s like 85 percent of our pay,” Cowart said.
“It hits you in the pocket,” Edwards added. “It definitely hits you in the pocket.”
You can see the impact of the shutdown at auto dealerships. Employees said a dealership lot would be now packed with brand new vehicles fresh off the assembly line – but in many spaces, those vehicles are nowhere to be found.
It is a perfect illustration of how the chip shortage has impacted auto production.
Needless to say, the workers at the Ford plant were elated to get the call to come back on Monday.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Beach Hazards
“This was a definite move in the right direction, for everyone,” Edwards said.
But while the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant workers are coming back, workers at the Chrysler Plant in Belvidere northwest of Chicago learned the company plans to lay off 1,643 people beginning July 23.
A spokesperson also pointed to the chip shortage.
“So for layoffs of a certain size, employers are required by the the State of Illinois to give a certain amount of notice,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Chrysler’s announcement was included in this month’s layoff report to the state. But Challenger said the worst of the microchip-related layoffs may soon be over.
“We may continue to see this microchip shortage creating layoffs over the next couple of weeks and months, but certainly, it’s anticipated to be resolved by the end of the summer – and the labor market is expected to improve really dramatically,” he said.
Until then, Ford workers are counting their blessings – hoping that production will be pushing full steam ahead into the future.
Hickey: “Do you feel like it’s a sign of good things for the future of Ford and for the auto industry?”
Cowart: “Yeah, we’re back to work, so yes, it’s a good thing.”
A spokesperson for the Belvidere Chrysler plant said they “will make every effort to place laid off hourly employees in open full-time positions as they become available,” and those placements will be based on seniority.
Ford said in a statement: “We are currently building Ford Explorers, Lincoln Navigators and Police Interceptors at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant. This week, we are operating one shift out of our normal three shifts.”MORE NEWS: Chicago Commemorates Juneteenth With Events Around City And Beyond
As to the outlook on the state’s most recent layoff report as a whole, analysts said the overall the report is pretty good compared to May of last year. In May 2020, there were about 8,000 layoffs – compared to about 2,500 this year.