The plant, where they make the Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator, is one of three in the country selected by UAW President Shawn Fain at which auto workers went on strike after the UAW failed to come to terms in contract negotiations with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.
Bruce Baumhower, president of the local union, told FOX 8 News on Friday that the selection of their plant came as no surprise.
“Actually we thought we might be, because I know Fain’s strategy was to hit the ones that are the most profitable for Ford, for GM and for Chrysler. And of course, trucks and Jeeps are the market right now, so he hit two truck plants and a Jeep plant,” said Baumhower.
Union members were at every entrance of the sprawling plant on Friday, waving pickets and cheering as supporters drove by, honking their horns.
“The community, all the way down I-75 — every truck that comes by, every car, they are all honking and waving at us,” he added.
The UAW is seeking a huge raise and benefits that make up for concessions the union made while the industry was struggling.
Stellantis offered a 14% raise, but the UAW president was asking for a 40% raise over four years.
Baumhower understands that 40% is asking more than they are likely to get, but said it is consistent with raises the CEOs of each company got, while 1,300 new hires since the company filed bankruptcy were earning only $15.78 per hour.
Among them are Chanelle Hardy, a body shop worker who just started at the Toledo plant two months ago and is now on the picket line.
“When I was younger, growing up, it was like, ‘Ooh, you have got to work at Jeep because Jeep makes like $20 an hour and Jeep is such a good job and it pays well, the benefits are great.’ But then I turn 18, I go to work at Jeep and this is … it’s fast food pay, really,” said Hardy.
Among those supporting the picketers on Friday was Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
“It’s clear to me that the auto companies are not offering a serious contract to the workers. The history is: 15 years ago, particularly Chrysler and GM were in big, big trouble. Workers made major givebacks to step up and save this company. Now the company is prospering,” Brown told FOX 8 News.
“The profits of just [Stellantis] alone is $12 billion so far this year, and they are not offering a serious contract to help those workers make up for the losses, the sacrifices they gave over the last 15 years,” he added.
“The reason I feel so good about what UAW members are doing here and across the country is I know there’s huge public support for unions, because people realize that executives are making more and more and more money and workers are left behind,” said Brown.
When asked if he felt there is anything the federal government or the White House can do to expedite the negotiations, Brown seemed less optimistic.
“I don’t think we can force anybody to do anything. We can help build public sentiment that this country is overwhelmingly, increasingly pro-union. The people of this country recognize all these workers did big givebacks over the last 15 years to make this company successful,” he said.
Republican U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio issued a statement demanding answers regarding the involvement of a top aide of President Joe Biden in UAW strikes at the plant in Toledo as well as the two other plants in Missouri and Michigan.
In a statement, Vance’s office said: “Earlier this week, Senator Vance expressed his support of autoworkers’ demands for higher wages and insisted negotiations must address President Biden’s failed electric vehicle (EV) policies, which will enrich Chinese manufacturers at the expense of American workers.”
In a letter to Gene Sperling, one of the administration’s senior advisors, Vance wrote, in part:
Now that negotiations have failed to conclude in time to avert a strike, your involvement deserves further scrutiny …
First, the negotiations have so far failed to address the existential threat posed by the premature transition to EVs. Electric vehicles and batteries are far less labor-intensive than typical automobiles and have supply chains that run through China. Conservative estimates show that the rapid transition to EVs could cost nearly half a million autoworkers’ jobs. …
Second, the UAW’s planned strikes have targeted just three plants, including two in the deeply Republican states of Ohio and Missouri. Only one strike affects Michigan, where the bulk of UAW members live and work. This pattern seems hardly coincidental.U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio
Dave Green, the UAW Region 2B director, representing 180,000 current and retired auto workers in Indiana and Ohio, said while striking the plant was a tough decision, it is one he believes is in the workers’ best interests.
“It’s been overwhelming. The community here is unbelievable and I think our members — I think they recognize if they don’t stand up and fight today — we have been telling them, ‘We have to live to fight another day’ — today is our day,” said Green.
Stellantis issued a corporate statement to FOX 8 News stating:
We are extremely disappointed by then UAW leadership’s refusal to engage in a responsible manner to reach a fair agreement in the best interest of our employees, their families and our customers. We immediately put the company in contingency mode and will take all the appropriate structural decisions to protect our North American operations and the company.Statement from Stellantis
General Motors also issued a statement, that reads, in part:
It is unfortunate that the UAW leadership’s decision to call a strike at Wentzville Assembly has already had a negative ripple effect, with GM’s Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas and its 2,000 team members expected to be idled as soon as early next week. This is due to a shortage of critical stampings supplied by Wentzville’s stamping operations to Fairfax. We are working under an expired agreement at Fairfax. Unfortunately, there are no provisions that allow for company-provided SUB-pay in this circumstance.
We have said repeatedly that nobody wins in a strike, and that effects go well beyond our employees on the plant floor and negatively impact our customers, suppliers and the communities where we do business. What happened to our Fairfax team members is a clear and immediate demonstration of that fact.
We will continue to bargain in good faith with the union to reach an agreement as quickly as possible for the benefit of our team members, customers, suppliers and communities across the U.S. In the meantime, our priority is the safety of our workforce.Statement from General Motors on Fairfax Assembly
The strike was also criticized by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, whos President Ryan Augsburger said, in part:
A sustained strike by the UAW will have major implications for Ohio’s economy. The Buckeye State produces more auto parts than any other state and is No. 2 in the U.S. for assembly of automobiles.
The OMA is extremely concerned about the financial impact on auto suppliers and their employees who would be held hostage by a long-term strike. Inflammatory rhetoric and unreasonable demands must be replaced with rational, good-faith negotiations and an awareness that America’s auto sector faces stiff global competition.
The OMA urges UAW leaders to return to the negotiating table with a serious resolve to end this standoff and prioritize the competitiveness of America’s auto sector — for the sake of our nation’s and state’s economies.Ohio Manufacturers’ Association President Ryan Augsburger
Baumhower said 10 contract companies in Toledo, that provide everything from cleaning services to instrument panels, seats and mounting tires on rims, were also shut down on Friday.
Sen. Brown said he believes many of the companies that depend on the auto workers for their livelihood will understand and support their cause.
“Everybody wants a settlement, but the suppliers understand and the local businesses understand a good contract helps everybody in Toledo. It helps the contractors, it helps the local restaurants, it helps the Realtors, because people have a little more money to do what they need with it,” Brown told FOX 8 News.
The shut down in Toledo alone was expected to have a huge financial impact on Stellantis the longer it lasts.
Union representatives in Toledo on Friday either did not know or would not divulge what they knew about the long-term plans for picket lines in Toledo or elsewhere, suggesting that Fain has not ruled out asking all 150,000 of the UAW members working at the ‘Big Three’ manufacturers to go on strike.
But they hope it will not come to that.
“I’m hoping this thing gets resolved soon. It should. You know, 74% of Americans think we are right on this issue and if you think about it,” said Baumhower.