Wisconsin joins UAW auto strike as workers seek to recoup past givebacks

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 Stallantis 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.

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.”



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F09%2F28%2Fwisconsin-joins-uaw-auto-strike-as-workers-seek-to-recoup-past-givebacks%2F by Erik Gunn

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