UAW chapter in ‘holding pattern’ as auto strike continues

Published 4:20 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023

By Jake Moore, Bowling Green Daily News

Business continues as usual, albeit with a sense of uncertainty, for members of United Auto Workers Local 2164.

President Brian Ferrett said the union, which represents workers at General Motors’ Bowling Green Assembly Plant, has found itself in a “holding pattern” as the UAW’s strike against Detroit’s three main automakers continues to unfold.

“Right now, nobody knows what’s next or if any plants are next or if we’re going to get a tentative agreement,” Ferrett told the Daily News on Tuesday, the fifth day of the strike.

UAW President Shawn Fain has employed a limited “stand up” strike against GM, Ford and Stellantis, targeting an assembly plant belonging to each of the manufacturers to face all three simultaneously.

Nearly 13,000 workers from three plants across Missouri, Ohio and Michigan have been on the picket line since Friday, demanding higher wages, a shorter work week and better job protection as the industry shifts deeper into electric vehicle production.

Fain delivered a new negotiation deadline Monday night, announcing in a video address that the strike will expand this Friday if the three companies have not made substantial progress toward a fair agreement.

Ferrett said the local chapter does not know if that expansion would include Bowling Green’s plant, the sole builder of the Chevrolet Corvette.

“This is all uncharted waters for me,” Ferrett said. “I have 30 years with General Motors and I’ve been a part of four or five contract negotiations, different facets of the union, and this is the only one that I’ve been a part of that didn’t have (one) target company.”

He said while some union members feel apprehensive not knowing when they may be called to strike, “President Fain has a plan.”

“We’ve got to follow that plan and have faith in the plan,” Ferrett said.

The uncertainty has not stopped the union, nearly 1,200 strong, from planning out picket duties.

Ferrett said each member will be responsible for one six-hour shift every seven days, be that working in the canteen, taking water to the picket lines or picketing at one of the three plant gates if a strike is indeed ordered in Bowling Green.

In terms of production, Ferrett said the plant has not experienced any residual effects from GM’s plant in Wentzville, Missouri, going on strike.

According to Ferrett, major UAW suppliers that may affect Corvette assembly if they are ordered to strike include GM’s Tonawanda Engine Plant in Buffalo, New York, and its Bedford, Indiana, casting plant.

He said a Bowling Green strike would be significant for GM, since “I think we’re in the top percentage of profitable vehicles that General Motors makes.”

According to sales numbers from GM Authority, the Corvette continues to dominate the premium sports car market.

More than 9,100 units were sold in Q2 of 2023, nearly a 6% increase over Q2 of 2022 and well ahead of the 3,140 Porsche 911 units moved in the same time frame.

“The Corvette mid-engine is a very hot commodity still,” Ferrett said. “Basically every car we make is sold.”

If there is a strike, Ferrett said the support of the Bowling Green community will be paramount.

He said the people of Bowling Green were “nothing but supportive to the cause” when the plant went on strike against GM in 2019, and Ferrett said he expects the level of solidarity to be somewhat similar if workers are told to return to the picket line.

Plant management declined to comment.

Ferrett added that the union may be doing some rallies in the near future to give Bowling Green the chance to meet its members, but nothing has been scheduled yet.

He said he hopes the UAW strike is ultimately a short one.

“I hope I wake up every day and we have a tentative agreement that’s fair and meets the needs of all our members. Our newer members, our members not hired yet, our retirees, our traditional employees that have been here for 15 or more years,” he said.

He said he felt this set of negotiations is one of the “most pivotal times in my lifetime” when it comes to taking care of the middle class.

“People always say the auto workers set the tone for the middle class, which in my opinion has been eroding over my whole career of 30 years at GM,” Ferrett said. “I think it needs to start to spin back to the people who actually build the product.”

He added that it was time for workers to “get” rather than to “give back,” saying he’s sure a point exists where both sides can agree.

“I just hope they get to that point soon.”