After the union’s strike expanded last week to include Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, UAW Local 1250 workers who build Ford’s EcoBoost engines at Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 in Brook Park expected they would be losing work, local union President Wilma Thomas told FOX 8 News on Friday.
The 372 layoffs are set to begin Monday, the automaker confirmed on Friday.
“The company has blatantly disregarded our seniority agreement and has decided to lay off the I-4 Department and ignoring our seniority agreements,” reads an official notice that appeared on the union’s website on Thursday. The national union expects to file claims of unfair labor practices, it continues.
Workers will first apply for unemployment, but if they’re not eligible, they expect to be eligible for strike pay, Thomas said.
The 365-acre Brook Park plant, first opened in 1952, has more than 1,600 hourly employees. Though layoffs loom at the Brook Park plant, Thomas said the local union stands behind the union’s national negotiators “100 percent.”
“All we want is a good contract. That’s all we’re asking for,” Thomas told FOX 8 News on Friday. “We’re not asking for anything we’re not due. We just want a good contract to keep on working, so we can pay our bills on time.”
Another 119 layoffs were planned at two other Ford plants in Lima and Michigan that were also impacted by the Chicago plant strike. Some of those furloughs started Thursday.
There have been more than 1,800 strike-related layoffs at Ford and more than 9,500 layoffs at its suppliers, according to information provided Thursday.
“While we are doing what we can to avoid layoffs, we have no choice but to reduce production of parts that would be destined for a plant that is on strike,” Bryce Currie, manufacturing vice president, is quoted in a Friday evening statement. “Strike-related layoffs are an unfortunate result of the UAW’s strategy.”
More than 25,000 UAW members are now on strike nationwide. Targeted walk-outs began Sept. 15. The latest UAW announcement last week called for about 7,000 more workers to walk out. GM then laid off 130 workers at its Parma Metal Center due to the walkout at GM’s Lansing Delta Township plant, which provides about 30% of the work for the Parma facility.
Union President Shawn Fain did not announce any new walkouts in a 2 p.m. Friday announcement on Facebook Live. Fain said General Motors, upon threat of a new strike at a Texas plant, agreed to add the company’s electric vehicle manufacturing plans to the union’s national agreement.
But no tentative contract agreements have been reached with any of the three automakers, he said.
“Our strike is working, but we’re not there yet,” he said, though he added, “We are making significant progress. … In just three weeks, we have moved these companies further than what anyone thought was possible.”
‘I get health care and hope’
The strike highlights the disparities between temporary and permanent employees at the “Big Three” automakers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) — The Associated Press reported on Thursday.
When Rhonda Naus got a job inspecting Jeep Wranglers fresh off Stellantis’ Toledo assembly line, her paycheck added up to roughly half of what her co-workers were making. But with that came an expectation that her temporary status eventually would become permanent with a big jump in wages.
Six years later, she’s still doing the same work as her colleagues at Stellantis and still making a lot less.
“I knew I had to start at the bottom. I didn’t think I’d be at the bottom forever,” said Naus, who’s among thousands of striking UAW members nationwide pushing for pay and benefit increases along with an end to multiple tiers of wages for workers across the companies.
From office workers to delivery drivers, companies have become increasingly reliant on temporary workers. Automakers have used the lower-paid workers for years to fill in for absent and vacationing full-time employees and to staff up when production increases.
Tiers for the Detroit automakers were created starting in 2007 as the UAW tried to help them out of serious financial troubles. Even so, GM and Chrysler ended up in government-funded bankruptcies.
Today, union leaders say the Detroit automakers are abusing the system to save money by treating temps like full-time workers — one major point of contention in current contract talks that has led to more than 25,000 auto workers going on strike.
“Temp work has to be temporary work,” Fain said weeks before the strike began. “We’re going to end the abuse of temps.”
The union is also asking for pay raises as part of the contract talks, as well as a 32-hour week with 40 hours of pay, the restoration of traditional defined-benefit pensions for new hires and a return of cost-of-living pay raises, among other benefits.
Under contracts negotiated in 2019, temporary workers reach full-time status at GM after 19 months of continuous employment and at Ford after two years. At Stellantis, maker of Jeeps, Rams and Chryslers, they get preferential hiring but no guarantees.
In the current negotiations, GM and Stellantis have made offers to increase temporary worker starting pay from $16.67 to about $20 per hour. Ford raised its offer to $21 per hour with profit sharing and said it would make temporaries full-time workers after 90 days of continuous service.
Once temporary workers become full time, they start on a higher pay scale that eventually would reach the top assembly plant wage of $32 per hour.
Of the Detroit Three, Stellantis relies most heavily on temporary employees, who make up about 12% of its UAW workforce, or just over 5,100 employees. GM said its temporary workforce accounts for between 5-10% of its total union members while Ford is at about 3%.
Temps — also known as supplemental employees — account for about 1 in every 5 of the 5,800 unionized workers at the Stellantis plant that makes Jeeps.
“You can be here 10 years and still not be full time. That’s crazy,” said Logan Bohn, of Woodhaven, Michigan, who has worked at the plant in Toledo for two years.
Starting pay for Stellantis temporary workers is $15.78 per hour — less than some fast food restaurants — and caps out at $19.28 after four years.
Neither Ford nor GM would comment on Fain’s assertion that the companies are paying poverty wages to temps. A Stellantis spokeswoman noted that the company has said it wants an agreement “that fairly rewards our workforce for their contribution to our success, without significantly disadvantaging Stellantis against our nonunion competitors.”
The UAW’s effort to eliminate tier wages was emboldened this summer when UPS agreed to end the system for its drivers in a new contract with the Teamsters.
Along the picket lines outside the auto plants, even workers who wouldn’t directly benefit from ending the tier-wage system say it’s a top issue for them. Jennifer Navarre, a full-timer on the Jeep assembly line in Toledo, said it’s an unfair arrangement.
“We have to fight together,” she said.
It’s not just the wages that are unequal for temporary workers. They have less health care benefits and don’t get profit sharing checks or other performance bonuses. They also must deal with unpredictable schedules and can be told to work overtime when others are allowed to go home.
“Some weeks you’re working six or seven days, then a few weeks later, it’s boom, ‘We don’t need you here’ or ‘We only need you on Monday,'” Naus said.
Workers in Toledo say there’s high turnover among temporary workers and that many left when Amazon opened a nearby distribution center and after a solar panel plant expanded its operations.
Orlando Evans, hired in by Jeep five years ago, said many temps who’ve stayed work second jobs with flexible hours because they never know when they’ll be asked to work six days a week or none at all. He started a business driving people to the airport and around town.
“The idea came on after all the times I’d been sent home,” he said. Evans hasn’t left the temporary job with the automaker because he needs health care coverage for his three children and two step kids.
“Outside of that, there’s not too much more reason to stay,” he said.
Courtney Torres, who has four children at home, said she lives paycheck to paycheck while working six days a week.
“I just get health care and hope,” she said.
The hope, she said, is that the new contract will give her and the others a direct route to full-time employment.
“I want a career, I want to be some place, I want to be able to take a vacation, take my kids on vacation,” she said. “Honestly, if they don’t give us a clear path, I don’t plan on staying. I’m struggling to keep up.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.