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UAW Rally Draws Fain, Bernie Sanders, MI Dems Side with Strikers

September 19, 2023

(DETROIT) – When UAW Vice President Chuck Browning asked hundreds of demonstrators what they were going to get as part of the union’s unprecedented strike of the Big Three Automakers, they chanted back “our shit.”

Automotive plant workers, labor activists and other strike supporters congregated outside of the UAW-Ford National Programs Center in Detroit’s Hart Plaza. After contracts expired by midnight Thursday between the three Detroit automakers and the UAW, the union launched its “Stand Up Strike” against the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, General Motors’ Wentzville Assembly Center in Missouri and Stellantis’ Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio.

Nearly 13,000 of the UAW’s 145,000 members – nearly 9% – have walked off the job.

UAW President Shawn Fain promised not to picket or protest Friday evening’s black tie “Charity Preview” event, nicknamed “auto prom,” which is hosted by the Detroit Auto Show and contributes to children’s charities across Southeast Michigan, like the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan.

However, the strike-focused “Stand Up” rally took place alongside the charity event’s venue, the Huntington Place, and featured an extensive lineup of speakers, like Browning, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Haley Stevens (D-Birmingham). The headlining speakers were Fain and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive figurehead from Vermont and 2016 and 2020 presidential candidate.

“It’s time for the politicians in this country to take a side. We’ve been accused of causing a class war – the class war’s been going on for 40 years in this country,” Fain said. “It’s time to pick a side: either you’re with the billionaire class or you’re with the working class.”

Fain introduced Sanders as one of labor’s strongest allies, “a lifelong warrior in the fight against the corporate class, kicking ass against the billionaire class.”

Among some of the UAW’s top demands is an elimination of tier systems around wages and benefits, where older auto workers earn approximately $28 hourly and those hired after 2007 – the “second tier” – earn about $16 to $19 per hour with an opportunity to reach the $32 hourly top rate over an eight-year period. Temporary auto workers – “temps” – are also considered to be residing in the system’s lowest tier, with accusations from the union of them being given full-time workloads and being compensated as contract workers.

The UAW is additionally seeking a 46% jump in wages over a four-year timeframe and the restoration of cost-of-living adjustments, which were suspended to assist automakers during the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

“Sixty percent of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, paycheck to paycheck – that means that every day, they are living under (incredible) stress. They are worried about paying the rent, they’re worried about putting food on the table, they’re worried about being able to afford to go to a doctor when their kid gets sick…” Sanders said. “Families in the automobile industry should not have to live with that kind of stress.”

He asked if GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra – who reportedly made $29 million in 2022 (362 times the median paycheck of a GM employee, based on fillings within the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) – knows what it’s like to try raising a family, putting food on a table and paying rent while making $20 per hour.

Browning, who previously directed the Taylor-based UAW Region 1A before later joining the union’s international executive board, specifically targeted Ford CEO Jim Farley in his remarks. Farley has told the media that his company could not afford all of the union’s demands, like the four-year wage increase and the push for 32-hour, four-day work weeks.

Ford’s $30 billion in operating profits made between 2019 and 2022 would have been a $14.4 billion loss under the UAW’s contract demands, CNN Business reported.

“He’s been doing a lot of interpreting in the media. He’s been airing his grievances with the process. He has an issue that bargainers aren’t behaving like the peasants he believes they are, and taking the scraps and taking the things he thinks are in the best interest,” Browning said. “And I want to send this message: You can complain. You can think that you are being treated with an unfair hand, but that does not take away your responsibility to sit down at the bargaining table and hear our members’ demands and figure out a way to creatively meet those demands.”

Among Friday’s attendees, many dressed in red t-shirts and shuffling under “United for a Strong Contract” signs, were three members of the Gonzalez family. Standing underneath a UAW flag with a red boxing glove above its pole, was father Jesse Gonzalez, who retired from the Ford Rouge Glass Plant 24 years ago.

One of his sons, Chuy Gonzalez, a Ford Woodhaven Stamping Plant employee since 2012, initially joined a 1,200-member team that had gone down to around 560 individuals. Because C. Gonzalez’ plant did not walk out, he said the upcoming days would be normal “until we run out of material to stamp.”

Another son, Enzo Gonzalez, has been working in Woodhaven for nearly 29 years. He said he would rather have an increased wage rate than be offered bonuses subjected to tax. He would also like to see his brother have access to the same pension benefits he has access to as a “tier one” auto worker.

“The cost of living has gone up. You go to the grocery store with $100 and you come out with a couple of candy bars. That’s what it seems like,” Enzo said. “You were watching your bank account just dwindle . . . we used to eat out every day, and then we went on diets, but luckily we did because I couldn’t afford to go out to eat . . . it’s ridiculous. It’s getting almost to the point where you can’t even afford to buy the car. If you have a wife and maybe some children, I don’t see how you can do it.”

As for the bold decision to strike all three automakers simultaneously, Enzo said, “Why not? It’s never been done, so let’s try it.”

Chuy said Fain had come into his leadership post with a totally different approach than the union’s previous presidents, informing rank-and-file members with daily and hourly notifications.

As for the impact of the tier system, Chuy said he has zero pension in terms of retirement income, kicked off his career earning less than $16 hourly and it took him 10 years to reach the top pay available for him.

“And while you’re going to top pay, you’re struggling. You’re absolutely struggling,” Chuy said.

The group’s father, Gonzalez, predicts the recently started strike will end up in history books. Throughout his career at Ford, he went on strike three times, and he says the move against all three is a good strategy. He added that he retired from Ford after 34 years because his plant was shut down, not mentioning how one of the UAW’s demands is to permit workers to strike in response to plant closures.

When the rally transitioned into a march on Jefferson Avenue, MIRS spoke to 62-year-old Glenda Stanley of Southfield, who works at the Stellantis Mack Assembly Plant. She said, although she does not have any personal predictions about how long the strike will last, “whatever it is, whatever it takes, I’m in it for the long run.”

She wants news readers to know UAW members are not greedy for taking the latest actions, but are fighting for what they deserve. She described how she worked 12-16 hours a day, putting in up to 60-hour work weeks.

“I feel like we’re going to get exactly what we’re asking for because we deserve it. All these people out here . . . I feel the energy is where it needs to be,” Stanley said. “They are tired of how it’s been, tired of working all those long hours away from their families…I feel like this is a breaking point. Everybody’s fired up and ready.”

Stanley said she feels like she’s been inappropriately compensated when she’s worked more than 40 hours in a week and still can’t afford to take her family on a vacation “and enjoy the finer things in life just like the CEOs . . . we deserve to be given a share of those spices of life as well.”

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog newsletter


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