The UAW’s strike against General Motors is the hottest topic on the floor each day at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant.
First, there’s the solidarity behind the GM strike. Many Ford workers believe GM strikers are sacrificing for them. But it’s also curiosity. The deal the union ultimately gets with GM will influence the fates of hourly workers at Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Then, there is the fear.
“If Ford isn’t willing to budge on the same sticking points as GM, then the UAW might take us all out on strike,” said James Benson, a team leader in the body shop at the Dearborn Truck plant. “A better part of our workforce is probably not prepared for something long term. They are worried about a strike.”
At 12:01 a.m. Sept. 16, about 46,000 GM union workers went on a nationwide strike. GM and UAW negotiators continue to meet daily, well into the evening. The most recent main sticking points have been the length of time for in-progression workers to reach a full wage, product allocation and updating pension and 401(k) formulas.
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Ford and Fiat Chrysler workers might not be eager to live on $275 a week in strike wages as GM workers have done for a month, but they are stepping up to help their union brothers and sisters with support on the picket line and cash and food donations.
“They’re all picketing, every single one of them,” Joe Garrett said of Ford and FCA workers. Garrett is Local 163’s shop chairman at GM’s Romulus Powertrain.
Every day, 15 to 30 Ford and FCA workers appear at the three Romulus Powertrain gates to join the GM strikers and spend an hour on the picket line, said Garrett.
“They lift our spirits on the picket line and there’s just massive caring and giving,” said Garrett.
Impact the future
Many Ford and FCA UAW members say they are watching GM talks intently.
In pattern bargaining, the UAW chooses a target company to negotiate with first, then uses that agreement as a template for bargaining with the other two.
“At Dearborn Truck Plant we put out a weekly bulletin and the main thing we’ve talked about is the importance of this strike to Ford and Chrysler workers,” said Gary Walkowicz, bargain committeeman at the F-150 plant.
Five to six days a week Walkowicz pickets with GM’s UAW workers at Romulus Powertrain and Detroit-Hamtramck plants for about an hour each time, he said.
“There were Chrysler and Ford workers there too,” said Walkowicz. “We’ve had a few days when we’ve had different crews come out together and we’ve had good turnout. We had a day with about 100 Ford workers that came to Romulus.”
Most of the Ford and FCA UAW members are ready to help because, said Walkowicz, “This fight is our fight, this can greatly impact our contract and our future.”
Local 600 represents Dearborn Truck’s union workers. About 4,200 hourly workers populate the plant. Walkowicz said Ford union members are troubled by the same issues as GM union workers.
One issue is temporary workers, who make up about 10% of Dearborn Truck’s hourly workforce, he said. Compared with permanent workers, temps are paid less and get fewer benefits, yet often work similar jobs with no pathway to permanency.
“Most of the workers in the plant feel they need to be made permanent,” said Walkowicz. “It’s totally unfair.”
Ford workers want higher wages too, noting the big profits Detroit automakers have recorded over the past four years, Walkowicz said.
For its part, GM has said it has shared its success through annual profit-sharing checks to its workers. GM wants to lower its total labor costs to remain competitive against nonunion foreign-based carmakers who build in the United States. Those imports presently have a $13 per employee cost advantage when it comes to total costs of labor, including wages and benefits.
Benson has worked at Dearborn Truck, where Ford builds the F-150 and Raptor pickups, for 20 years. He has the “utmost respect” for GM strikers, who he said are “taking the brunt of it with the strike.”
“I’m watching how dug in both sides are and if this goes any longer, it’s not unheard of for the UAW to say, ‘We’ll move on to the next company and work with them,’ which is Ford,” said Benson. “Or put us all on strike for more leverage.”
More: What happens if GM and the UAW can’t reach agreement?
More: GM deal with UAW on health care costs may help end strike, hurt Ford
Benson said he has been saving his money to prepare for a possible strike. In the meantime, he reads all the news he can get on the talks.
Another worker at the plant, who declined to be identified, said he also fears a strike at Ford.
“Yes, I am worried,” said worker who’s been at Dearborn Truck Plant for 23 years. “I don’t think the UAW is going to give up the health care and the in-progression issue.”
This worker has twice joined the picket line at GM’s Romulus Powertrain for two-hour stints.
“It’s all about solidarity, and we might be out there next,” said the worker. “The strikers were very appreciative.”
But Dave Kowalski, who has worked 25 years at Dearborn Truck, does not expect a strike at Ford even though, he said, “Most of the UAW people are pretty steadfast to make sure we reap some of the billions of dollars they’ve made.”
Kowalski has not yet walked a GM picket line, but he said he “absolutely” plans to do so.
Besides time on the line, other UAW locals have donated food and other goods to help strikers who are depleting their savings to survive on strike wages.
“We’ve asked our workers to go out and walk the picket line and to donate goods such as gift cards,” said Walkowicz. “We’ve been getting a good response.”
Local 600 has delivered dozens of $25 gift cards to Local 163 for Meijer’s, said Garrett.
“I can’t even name all of their names, but Jay from Rouge came in here last Friday and had five vehicles full of food and stuff to give us,” said Garrett. “It’s amazing what they’ve done to give us support.”
Likewise, members of Local 900 in Wayne, which represents Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, which builds the Ranger pickup, have come daily to either donate goods or lend support on the picket line, Garrett said. Also, Local 3000, which represents Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant; and Local 1248, which represents FCA’s Mopar, have made donations of time and goods, said Garrett.
“I have seen guys taking three $100 bills out of their wallets and dropping it in the jar for our members,” Garrett said. “The amount of financial support they’ve given us has been tremendous. Ford and Chrysler people are keeping us afloat on their donations.”
Contact Jamie L. LaReau at 313-222-2149 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter.