UAW Local 2164 rallies in solidarity with fellow auto workers

Published 2:53 pm Thursday, October 5, 2023

By JAKE MOORE, Bowling Green Daily News

Dozens of union laborers from General Motors’ Bowling Green Corvette Assembly Plant, decked out in red to show solidarity, gathered at the United Auto Workers Local 2164 union hall Wednesday to rally in support of their fellow workers on strike nationwide.

A few bars of the labor anthem “Solidarity Forever” lilted across the union hall parking lot as the workers gathered in front of the local chapter’s sign for a group photo, clad in T-shirts bearing a snake and warning that the wearer is ready to “strike if threatened.”

While workers in Bowling Green have not yet been called to join the UAW’s unprecedented stand-up strike against Detroit’s Big Three automakers GM, Stellantis and Ford, union members like Amber Jarvis said her fellow laborers are ready to join the more than 25,000 people already on the picket lines.

“I think we’re all ready,” Jarvis told the Daily News on Wednesday, the 20th day of the strike. “I think we feel like we need to be involved.”

The UAW’s contract demands include a 36% increase in wages over four years, a 32-hour work week, regular cost-of-living adjustments and the restoration of defined benefit pensions.

For Brandon Casper, who has been with Corvette for a decade, his metric of success for any agreement is if workers are reasonably able to buy the vehicles that roll off auto manufacturer’s assembly lines.

“To be able to afford the product that you make, and that goes for any company,” Casper said. “To look at the parking lot and see that all of the cars have been made in the last five, six years. That’s saying something.”

Local 2164’s bargaining chairman, Jason Watson, said a successful result would include “some sort of gains” for all facets of the workforce – meaning newer workers, those close to retirement and retirees.

This would include an elimination of “tiered” compensation, a system in which long-term temporary workers earn less for the same labor as veteran employees.

The Associated Press has reported that, under the expired 2019 contract, temporary workers at GM earn full-time status after 19 months of work. According to the AP, temps account for 5-10% of GM’s union members.

“If you work on the assembly line and you do the same job as me, then you should get the same pay as me,” said Mike Burke, a GM worker of 40 years.

Burke said the current negotiations are an attempt to reclaim the pay and benefits UAW members lost when GM and Stellantis were bailed out by the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program following the 2007-08 financial crisis.

“As a long-term employee, I was here during that time,” he said. “I remember voluntarily taking the cuts to keep our jobs, to keep this company afloat, because I know what it means to America to have well-paying jobs.”

He said the Corvette plant is the fifth he’s worked at, making stops at GM facilities in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Mississippi – all of his moves coming as the results of plant closures, something the UAW has demanded the right to strike over.

“All the years that I’ve spent with GM, I don’t regret a thing. The only thing I regret really is what’s happening right now,” Burke said. “We took the hit and now all we’re asking for is what we lost.”

A total of 43 assembly plants and parts distribution centers have gone on strike since UAW President Shawn Fain first called for action Sept. 15. No Kentucky facilities have entered the fray.

Local 2164 President Brian Ferrett previously told the Daily News that a pair of plants the union depends on for components include GM’s Tonawanda Engine Plant in Buffalo, N.Y. and its casting plant in Bedford, Ind. Neither of them have been called to walk out.

Watson said that “to some degree” things are running as usual on the plant floor, but there has been a request made from the International Union that local chapters do not accept voluntary overtime.

“I think we’re starting to see a little bit of a result of that now from plants that supply us parts, because their folks are not willingly raising their hand to work overtime,” Watson said.

Burke said he’s optimistic that a deal can be struck, but the union – about 1,200 strong – is prepared to do what it needs to do to help make that happen.

“If we are called upon to strike, every single one of us will walk the line,” Burke said. “We are all on the same page and we are waiting for marching orders.”