‘This is what democracy looks like’ ⋆

As the UAW’s strike against the Detroit Three — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — stretches to two weeks, here’s a roundup of coverage from our sister outlets in Wisconsin, Kansas and Pennsylvania:

By Erik Gunn

United Auto Workers members on strike against the three Detroit-based auto manufacturers are looking for wage gains to make up for years of stagnation and concessions the union made a decade and a half ago to rescue the industry from collapse, labor leaders say.

Wisconsin UAW workers joined the walkout last week at two parts distribution plants, one in Hudson and one in Milwaukee. On Wednesday, labor activists rallied outside the Stellantis MOPAR plant in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood in support of the strikers.

“They’ve lost ground since the Great Recession and the government bailout that happened for two of the Big Three,” Pam Fendt, president of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, which organized the rally, told the Wisconsin Examiner.

Meanwhile, the auto companies — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) — have bounced back, she said. “They’ve seen their profits soar,” said Fendt. “Millions have been spent on stock buybacks. CEO pay has soared, but the workers are not making as much money as they were” before the 2008 downturn.

While President Joe Biden went to Michigan Tuesday to express his support for the union, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and County Executive David Crowley were on hand at the Milwaukee rally Wednesday

“I think it says that they understand what workers are facing and they want to be helpful and lend their voice to that side of the bargaining table,” Fendt said.

Sen. John Fetterman to Detroit Three auto execs: How many yachts do you need?

The Stallantis MOPAR plant has about 100 employees, members of UAW Local 75. They, along with employees at the GM parts distribution center in Hudson, joined the strike on Friday, Sept. 22 — two of 38 parts facilities that the UAW decided to target in the first weeks of the walkout that began Sept. 15.

Steve Frisque is president of UAW Local 722, which represents the Hudson facility’s 81 hourly workers. “We want to get wages elevated and we want to get our cost-of-living [adjustment] back,” Frisque told the Wisconsin Examiner Wednesday.

There were “a lot of things we gave up back in 2008-09,” when General Motors went through bankruptcy, he said, “with the idea that once the company got economically viable again, we could get those things back. That just hasn’t materialized.”

Local 722 represents another 42 employees at a Ford parts warehouse in Menomonie that is not on strike, although that could change. “We won’t know that until Friday morning,” Frisque said. On Friday UAW leaders will announce the latest round of plants that will be affected.

This year’s strike marks a departure from the union’s long-standing strategy of picking one strike target among the Detroit Three, then negotiating a contract to set a pattern across the other two automakers.

This year Shawn Fain, the UAW’s new president, is calling the strike against all three manufacturers while carrying it out step by step.

“The plan was this time to basically have the three companies bid against each other” to settle a new agreement, said Frisque.

“It’s more of a strategic approach — hit them where they don’t know where it’s coming next.”

Rolling out the walkout piecemeal also makes it possible for the UAW to stretch out the strike fund that helps support members who have walked off the job, he observed.

“Wages have been stagnant for years,” Frisque said. “They’re starting at $17 an hour. In the Hudson area you can go to Aldi’s and make more than that.”

Union members also want to get rid of lower wage tiers that have reduced starting wages, wage progression and wage ceilings for newer hires, Frisque said.

“Inflation is up 18.6%,” Frisque said. “Our wages have gone up 6%. They’re making record profits. They need to share it with their employees.”

The signs that there could be a walkout this year were visible as far back as Fain’s election in March. It was the first time UAW leadership was chosen by a direct vote of the union rank-and-file rather than by delegates to the union’s convention.

“I knew by what he ran his campaign on that there was going to be a much better chance of us going out on strike,” Frisque said. Fain’s pitch to members in the runup to the vote was “more forceful and pushing things for the membership.”

The local union has been urging its members to prepare for a walkout since the settlement that ended the 2019 strike.

“We’ve been telling our people since the last contract, you need to save your money,” Frisque said. “The relationships, at least with GM, have been getting more contentious over the years. Our people have been sort of expecting this coming up.”

Frisque said union members hope for a resolution that meets their demands for a better deal.

“We want to get back to work. We want to get parts out to our customers,” he said. “But there comes a time when you have to draw a line in the sand.”

Gov. Laura Kelly, center, invites other elected officials to stand next to her Wednesday at the UAW Local 31 “red shirt rally” in Kansas City, Kansas. (Lauren Fox for Kansas Reflector)

By Lauren Fox

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A sea of red surrounded the local United Auto Workers union Wednesday afternoon in Kansas City, Kansas.

The UAW Local 31 hosted a “red shirt rally” and food drive in support of local auto workers who have been laid off because of the national strike against major car makers.

Hundreds of supporters came out to the rally and chanted phrases like, “Record profits, record contracts,” and, “This is what democracy looks like.”

Francine Williams, a UAW Local 31 member, held a sign during the rally that read: “Fighting for the American dream.” Williams has worked for General Motors for 24 years and said she came to the rally to support the union and fight for fair wages.

“We gave a lot of concessions when our company was in trouble. But now that they are doing better, they have forgotten about us,” Williams said. “And we are here just to get back what we deserve … a great contract to put us back to where we should be.”

The rally was held one week after the General Motors Kansas City Fairfax Assembly Plant — which employs 2,234 people — was idled. The UAW Local 31 represents more than 7,000 active and retired workers of the Fairfax plant.

In a statement, GM said the idling of the Fairfax plant was part of a “negative ripple effect” of the strike at Wentzville Assembly center in Wentzville, Missouri. The Wentzville plant provides “critical stampings” to Fairfax, and because of the strike, GM said there is no work available at the Fairfax plant.

“Our focus continues to be on bargaining in good faith with the UAW leadership to reach an agreement as quickly as possible that rewards our employees and allows GM to succeed and thrive into the future,” GM said in a statement.

The last time the UAW went on strike was in 2019, and the strike lasted six weeks. Dontay Wilson, the president of UAW Local 31, said he has no idea how long the strike will last this time.

“We’re talking about people’s livelihoods, so of course there’s some concern,” Wilson said. “But what’s more concerning is, you know, the injustice that’s going on in our contracts.”

Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas, speaks Wednesday at the UAW Local 31’s “red shirt rally” in Kansas City, Kansas. (Lauren Fox for Kansas Reflector)

Across the country, autoworkers have been striking against the “Big Three” Detroit-based automakers — General Motors, Stellantis and Ford — since Sept. 15. It is the first time in the union’s 88-year history that workers at all three companies have gone on strike at the same time, the Missouri Independent reported. The General Motors Wentzville Assembly center, a Ford factory in Michigan and a Stellantis plant in Ohio were the first centers the UAW selected to go on strike after contract negotiations failed.

The UAW is seeking numerous improvements to their contracts, including better benefits, higher pay, better treatment of temporary workers and an end to a tiered employment system. The employment system — one of the major issues for autoworkers — is two-tiered, the  reported. Autoworkers hired before 2007 make about $33 per hour and are eligible for pensions, whereas workers hired after 2007 make less money and have worse benefits.

Hazel Davis, a former General Motors employee of 34 years, said she came to the rally on Wednesday because she wants all the current autoworkers to have the same retirement benefits and stability that she has.

“I came out here to support my local union brothers and sisters for higher wages, (cost of living adjustment), pension, all of those things that were taken away,” Davis said. “It takes all of those things to live when you retire.”

Notable appearances were made at Wednesday’s rally by Gov. Laura Kelly, Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner and Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas, who all sported red.

Kelly invited all elected officials who were at the event to join her, and told the crowd not to forget their names and faces as the 2024 elections approach.

“We’re going to get you what you need before that,” Kelly added.

She said that the autoworkers deserve a “living wage” and their “fair share.”

Garner said labor is what fuels communities and the autoworkers should have the benefits and salary to build generational wealth for their families. Lucas said the reason the crowd gathered “on this hot day” was to stand for workers across America “to get what they are owed.”

“And what you are owed is justice. What you are owed is fair pay. What you are owed are benefits. What you are owed is health care. And what you are owed is just a little bit of what the CEO gets,” Lucas said.

Wilson said it was “amazing” to see the large crowd at Wednesday’s rally.

“It feels like democracy. It feels like union. It feels like solidarity,” he said.

U.S. Sen Bob Casey joins striking UAW members on a picket line in Langhorne, Bucks County, Sept. 26, 2023 (Photo courtesy Sen. Casey)

By Kim Lyons

The same day President Joe Biden joined striking United Auto Workers members on a picket line in Michigan, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) visited a picket line in Langhorne, Bucks County to support striking members of UAW Local 2177.

“I’m proud to stand with UAW workers today in Bucks County as they fight for a fair deal,” Casey said in a social media post after the event Tuesday. “America is strong when we build our economy up from our workers, not down from the boardroom.”

The workers are striking against General Motors, part of the UAW strike across 20 states that began Sept. 15. Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the “Big Three” auto manufacturers, did not reach a contract agreement with the UAW before the previous one expired. UAW members are seeking a new contract with double-digit pay raises and the elimination of worker tiers.

Workers at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio, and General Motors’ Wentzville Assembly in Missouri were the first facilities called to strike, and have since been joined by 38 more Stellantis and GM auto parts plants. The Langhorne location fulfills orders for GM vehicle parts and delivers them to local dealerships.

When the workers in Langhorne walked off the job Friday, Casey posted a message of support to social media. “Pennsylvania is a union state, and these workers will be heard,” he said.

U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) visited a UAW picket line in Michigan on Sept. 16,  driving his “UAW-made Ford Bronco from Braddock, Pennsylvania to Wayne, Michigan” to show his support.

authored by States Newsroom
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