Wayne, MI – Since 12 a.m. September 15, over 4000 UAW Local 900 auto workers have been on strike at the Ford Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne, which is located just outside of Detroit. Since the strike was announced, the UAW workers have received much media attention nation-wide, and many Detroit residents are excited about the kind of fight the UAW are leading and the implications a win could have for them.
UAW local 900 workers and their supporters were in high spirits and the atmosphere on the ground is electric. There is a 24/7 picket running along a mile stretch in front of the massive assembly plant, with hundreds of picketers spread across several entry gates at any given time. There is no shortage of hot food, snacks and water donated by supporters and local businesses. Many UAW workers from other locals, members of other unions, friends, family, and community supporters have come out to join the picket line. There is an unending cacophony of vehicle horns honking in support of the striking workers.
On day one, strike captain Steve Kellans had much to say on the topics of their demands, the conditions leading up to this strike, and the future they hope to see.
Kellans said, “The present offer from Ford has no job security. Just due to the nature of EV [electrical vehicle] engineering, there are hundreds of jobs that will disappear from the production process for each vehicle. The Big Three keep saying they need to be competitive with foreign automakers, completely ignoring the fact that most foreign CEOs make 21 times the average worker while U.S. based CEOs make 450 times! We have not had a real wage increase in 17 years. We want a fair share of the profits we create. Having six to eight tiers [of pay] is unfair. We need the return of COLA and better “A Plan” pricing.” A Plan references discounts for Ford workers to buy the vehicles they build.
Kellans went on to say, “We work, we give money back in car purchases and sales are always up with new hires. Layoffs are more and more frequent and back in the day for a short layoff we got 95% of our weekly pay during the layoff, now it’s only 74% and this isn’t even part of the conversation! In 2019, Ford strong-armed us with a bad contract. We made concessions in 2008 and we made concessions with the last three contracts and each time, months later, executives got huge bonuses. 42% of sales worldwide came out of the Michigan Truck plant and they closed it in 2009-10 and gutted it for Ford Focuses. They closed the Wayne Assembly permanently, consolidating and renaming it the Michigan Assembly where we work now. We used to be self-sufficient and make everything we need right here, now we need to have engines and transmissions brought in. All bad decisions come from management and the workers suffer for it. No one wants to strike but in this game of give and take they’ve only been taking. They’ve been taking for 17 years, it [the strike] had to be done.”
Strikers were not shy when asked what was most important to them in the negotiations. UAW Local 900 worker Misti Robinette said, “No tiers, more wages, equal wages, and don’t touch our benefits!”
Robyn Johnson, another Local 900 worker, said, “We’ve given up so much in concessions over the years, we want to take back what’s ours.” Another strike captain, Kristy Musselman, said, “They took away a lot in concessions. We want an end to tiers, we want pay raises, for things to be fair, and nothing less, We’re on strike, but we have to fight back just to get what we’ve given up since 2007. It’s kind of embarrassing, but at age 39 I already need a double fusion in my back from the work I’m doing here, and Ford doesn’t care. They make 450 times the average worker and they don’t care.”
At a large rally in downtown Detroit, many local and state Democratic politicians, even Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made speeches to the crowd. UAW president Shawn Fain spoke with frequent applause and cheers from the crowd, pointing out the incredible disparity between executive and assembly worker pay and the difference in media coverage the union and Big Three are offered.
In his remarks addressing the crowd, Fain said, “You know, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors was on CNN just this morning, and they of course gave her an eight-and-a-half minute segment, and she said every management talking point you’d expect to hear. And in those eight-and-a-half minutes, she made more money doing nothing, than any auto worker makes in over two weeks.”
Fain continued, speaking to the attempts by Big Three CEOs to pit workers from different sectors against each other, “The day before that, Jim Farley, CEO of Ford was on CNBC, sitting right over there,” pointing to Ford headquarters, “he said if they give us economic justice, it would bankrupt the company. He talked about how they can’t pay auto workers too much otherwise schoolteachers and firefighters would get left behind. I don’t know where he’s been living, but public school teachers and firefighters, everyone’s been left behind.”
Fain then led the crowd, now well over 1000, on a march in the streets of downtown Detroit. The march quickly reached striking UAW insurance workers from Blue Cross Blue Shield, further swelling the numbers and highlighting the solidarity between UAW workers of different sectors. The march continued with chants such as “No justice, no Jeeps!”, “Get up! Get down! Detroit is a union town!”, “If we don’t get it? Shut it down!”, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Corporate greed has got to go!” and simply “U! A! W!”
Right now, over 13,000 UAW workers at the Big 3 remain on strike, and it is possible that more of the 146,000 workers UAW represents at the big 3 may join as things go forward.