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LABOR Auto Workers Strike Plants at All Three of the Big 3

LABOR NOTES, Luis Feliz Leon, Jane Slaughter, September 15, 2023 

“For the last 40 years, the billionaire class has been taking everything and leaving everybody else to fight for the scraps,” UAW President Fain said. “We are not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.”

Tick, tock. At midnight the clock ran out, and auto workers massed on picket lines.

The first-ever simultaneous strike at the Big 3 automakers—General Motors, Ford, Stellantis—started September 15 with 13,000 workers walking out of three assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri. There are 146,000 Auto Workers (UAW) members at the Big 3.

The UAW is calling its strategy the “stand-up strike,” a nod to the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-1937 that helped establish the union.

The shot across the bow came two hours shy of midnight via a very short Facebook Live video where UAW President Shawn Fain shared the strike targets: Stellantis’s Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio; GM’s Wentzville Assembly Center, near St. Louis; and the final assembly and paint departments at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, west of Detroit. These plants make highly profitable full-sized SUVS and trucks, including the Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Colorado, and Ford Bronco.

Fain laid out the union’s escalation strategy on Wednesday. The union will target a few plants at first, letting the Big 3 know the union is willing to inflict financial pain.

The idea is to keep the companies guessing. If they don’t move on the union’s demands, more pain will be applied—but the companies won’t be able to predict where.

“An all-out strike is still a possibility,” Fain said.

ON PINS AND NEEDLES

Some members who’d been expecting an all-out strike right away were disappointed. On Thursday, some at Toledo Assembly wore black in mourning. But as the deadline approached, regional director Dave Green was seen in town and people’s spirits were buoyed as it became apparent that their plant would be one of the strike sites.

A few hours before the deadline, Chris Falzone, working the evening shift at the Toledo Assembly plant, reported the scene inside. “Corporate management is walking the floor, along with all the first- and second-shift management, in case of a strike,” he said. “What I’m hearing from paint shop is that they are emptying the paint department in Gladiator and Wrangler side in case of a strike.” He was walking the floor distributing leaflets about what happens if they continue to operate under an expired contract at midnight.

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Meanwhile day-shift workers like Auston Gore, a 12-year veteran on the assembly line and a strike captain, were waiting at home. “We’re all waiting on pins and needles,” Gore said. “Normally, I’d be going to bed right now. But I’m staying up late.”

Workers at Toledo Assembly have been pinning their hopes on being selected to strike, because they expect that management will resort to a campaign of terror against the workers who stay on the shop floor.

“The company puts up a facade that they care about their employees, telling us that we are one big family,” said Gore. “Meanwhile, they’re going to have their supervisors walking around dinging us for the tiniest stuff if we are working under an expired contract. We feel like unprotected prey.”

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