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‘Kokomo stand ready’: UAW expands strikes to more non-Indiana GM, Stellantis facilities

By Adam Yahya Rayes and Tony Sandleben, IPB News | Published on in Business, Economy, Politics, Transportation
A small group of UAW Local 2209 members in Fort Wayne gathered to watch UAW International President Shawn Fain announce a second wave of strikes Friday morning. (Tony Sandleben/WBOI)

The United Auto Workers union added 38 facilities on Friday to the targeted strikes at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis that began last week. UAW workers in Indiana still aren’t joining the picket lines yet.

Ford did not see additional strikes in Friday’s announcement, as UAW International President Shawn Fain said the company had made significant progress in meeting union demands. The partial strike at the company’s Wayne, Michigan, assembly plant is still ongoing.

The other two companies will need “some serious pushing,” he said during a Facebook livestream.

The 38 facilities now joining the strikes comprise all parts distribution centers (PDC) owned by GM and Stellantis. The centers are responsible for getting official company parts to customers and dealerships to maintain vehicles. Indiana does have one Ford PDC in Plainfield, but not any owned by GM or Stellantis — so the state’s UAW workers were left out of the strikes again.

However, as Fain ended the strike expansion announcement he said “I know more of you were ready to walk” adding “and Kokomo, stand ready. Stick with us and be prepared.”

It’s not clear whether that was a signal that one or more of the several parts plants owned by Stellantis and GM in Kokomo might be next to join the strikes. Denny Butler, president of UAW Local 685 in Kokomo, said he believed the statement was more about Fain’s “hometown pride” than a signal about where strikes might happen next.

Fain grew up in Kokomo and worked at a casting plant there now owned by Stellantis.

In a statement after the UAW strike expansion was announced, Stellantis said “we question whether the union’s leadership has ever had an interest in reaching an agreement in a timely manner. They seem more concerned about pursuing their own political agendas than negotiating in the best interests of our employees and the sustainability of our U.S. operations given the market’s fierce competition.”

Local union leaders say they’re as much in the dark about the national union’s next moves as their members. Fort Wayne’s Local 2209 Bargaining Chairman Rich LeTourneau said he was prepared to strike if Fain called 2209’s number.

“Yeah, we were at the plant waiting,” LeTourneau said. “I had everybody in the positions they needed to be to walk the membership off if that was the case.”

Ford’s progress is mainly around issues with tiers, the time it takes for temps to get converted to full-time employees, and cost of living adjustments, Fain said. But, he added, other issues remain unresolved.

GM has also made partial progress on the tiers issue, he said, by offering to have uniform wage scales across its production customer care and components divisions. But Fain said both GM and Stellantis refused the union’s demand to restore the cost of living formula the Big Three had in 2009, instead they “are still offering a deficient cost of living allowance that is projected to provide zero increases over the next four years.”

In a graphic on GM’s website describing their Sept. 14 contract proposal, the company said it offered the UAW “inflation protection” that would increase employees wages to “make up the difference” for inflation. But that would only be available to workers earning the company’s top wage. Under the same offer, a new hide would reach top wage after four years.

Stellantis says their Sept. 14 offer “proposed an inflation protection measure designed to offset the reduced purchasing power employees have faced over the last few years,” but did not provide specifics.

So far it appears most GM and Stellantis plants in Indiana won’t be affected by work stoppages at the PDC facilities. Several local union leaders told Indiana Public Broadcasting the parts that their plants make or use don’t come from or go to the PDCs.

READ MORE: Stellantis says it may temporarily lay off 300 workers at Kokomo parts plants due to UAW strike

Stellantis said it may soon temporarily lay off 300 workers across two plants in Kokomo. In a statement Wednesday, the company said the anticipated layoffs are due to the United Auto Workers’ “targeted” strike at an assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio.

While that assembly plant is on strike, Stellantis said it’s facing “storage constraints.” So, the company may want to reduce production in Kokomo to avoid making parts with nowhere to go.

Adam is our labor and employment reporter. Contact him at arayes@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB. Contact WBOI’s Tony Sandleben at tsandleben@wboi.org or on Twitter at @tony_WBOI.