By Sarah Shurge – Rain or sunshine, they stand. Day or night, they stand. Crowded around a fire for warmth, they stand. Signs in their hands, they stand.
If you have driven down Michigan Ave. in Wayne within the last few weeks, you might have noticed something different at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant. The parking lot is empty and the sidewalks are covered with UAW members standing in protest.
On Friday, September 15th, the United Auto Workers (UAW) launched a strike against the “Big Three” (Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis) in an effort to encourage negotiations with each carmaker.
The UAW is seeking wage increases and other demands.
The UAW has initiated work stoppages at GM’s midsize truck plant in Wentzville, Missouri, all of the automaker’s parts distribution warehouses, and its Lansing Delta Township plant that produces Chevrolet Traverse and Buick Enclave SUVs.
The union has expanded its strike against the automakers each week since the strike began and now there are 25,300 of the UAW’s 146,000 autoworkers on strike.
“I’m so proud of Local 900 and to be a member of Local 900,” said Mike Smith, UAW Local 900 Vice President. “The solidarity that’s there. We’re out there every day in all weather elements. We’re out there for not only our cause, but the cause for future employees.”
Smith has been the Local 900 vice president since 2011 and has worked for Ford Motor Company for 33 years.
Members are required to be on the picket line for six hours, one day a week.
“There are so many people that are volunteering. They’re not worried about six hours a day. They’re there every day, pulling together,” said Smith.
There are around 130-140 members stationed at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant’s gates on any given day during the strike.
“I’m out here in support of the future generation of Ford employees,” said Kathy Bowles, Ford retiree. “I live an hour from here but I still come twice a week.”
Bowles worked for Ford for 20 years before she was required to medically retire after obtaining injuries while working on the assembly line.
Her husband, her son, and her brother-in-law all work for Ford still.
Many union members on the picket line didn’t wish to speak with the press, or they wished to remain anonymous.
“The UAW means we can have a better life. A lifestyle that doesn’t have to live below the standards of living,” said an anonymous member. “The new contract doesn’t benefit the workers, it benefits the company.”
This member was born under Ford insurance, been with the union since 1989, and worked for Ford since 2013.“Five days out of the week I’m at the Local 900. It’s my duty,” said Stacy Tompkins, Co-Chair of the Community Service Committee.
Tompkins has worked for Ford for 33 years and has been on the executive board for 15 years. She was born and raised in Wayne, and is surrounded by Ford employees in her family.
Her father worked for Ford for 37 years, along with her sister, brother-in-law, daughter, cousins, uncles, an aunt, and even her grandfather for a brief time. Herself and her family members have worked at both Michigan Truck Plant and Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.
“The UAW made me feel like it wasn’t just a job, it was a career,” said Tompkins. “I’m able to help people and give back. I’m doing something and I believe in what I do.”
Like Tompkins, Smith was also born and raised in Wayne.
“My heart bleeds UAW and I’m a proud Ford employee. My dad was a supervisor at Ford. He’s the one that told me to get involved in the union,” said Smith. “I love helping and fighting for these people. This is not just a labor organization, it’s a community driven organization.”
UAW Local 900 has hosted and participated in events such as: Red Cross blood drives, food drives, food banks, coat drives, back-to-school drive with Hill Crest Bible Church, Adopt an Angel with Wayne-Westland Goodfellows, Trunk-or-Treat, Stuff the Bronco, Stuff the Bus, and much more.
“The City of Wayne has been fantastic with outpour of support and nothing but generous with making donations to help us,” said Smith. “There have been so many donations to help support the workers – hot food, water, pop, snacks. It’s boost everyone’s morale that the strike was needed.”
Businesses like Northside True Value Hardware donated items like a tent canopy to keep the rain off members, hand warmers, coolers, and bug spray. DICK’S Sporting Goods donated two 10×10 canopies. Norm’s Market donated hot dogs. Michigan Holland Meats donated over 200 pounds of hamburger. Residents have dropped off water and bags of ice. Along with so many other donations for businesses and residents.
“We needed to find parking for members and I was worried how we would move 4,000 members,” said Smith. “The Club Canton owner offered us parking in the grass lot and back parking spots for free, and Wayne Releaf opened up spots for us too.”
The UAW rented four 12-passenger Ford vans to shuttle passengers.
“The van had low tire pressure, so I called Jack Demmer Ford and they said we could bring the van to Quick Lane and it was fixed for free,” said Smith. “The Jack Demmer family has been very supportive.”
Many other businesses and residents have stepped up to support the UAW. Along with members that are volunteering to drive the shuttle vans, walk the line, help in the kitchen, and make food.
“I see how the community of Wayne and Westland has rallied behind us. It really makes my heart happy,” said Tompkins.
“We give so much to the community, it felt so good for them to rally behind us. I’m proud of my community for being there for us during this strike.”
Emergency responders have also been supporting the UAW.
“I can’t say thank you enough to the Wayne Police Department and Fire Department for how they’ve worked with Local 900 and how they’ve navigated keeping people safe,” said Smith. “Local 900 and its members can’t thank the community enough for the support they’ve shown us in this strike.”
Three of Local 900’s members are a part of the Negotiation Team at the main table: Dwayne Walker: Local 900 President, Scott Elliott: Michigan Assembly Plant Chairman, and Mike Beydoun: Skill trades District Committee Person.
“Their best interest is for every member, not just local 900,” said Smith.
Since Tuesday, August 29th, Ford has put four offers on the table, but no agreement with the UAW has been made yet.
If you wish to support the Local 900 with donations, items needed include: ice, small juices, fresh donuts, variety of chips, variety of snacks, napkins, and ziplock bags (all sizes). Pantry needs include: diapers (all sizes), pull-ups (2T, 3T, 4T, and 5T), laundry soap, dish soap, paper towel, toilet paper, rice, and soup.
You can find the Local 900 Strike Amazon wish.
If you have any questions regarding donations, you can email Ebony Kennedy, Community Chair at Uaw900communityservice@gmail.com or call the Local 900 at (734)721-2530. Two secretaries answer phones from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday. You can also come and visit the Local 900 at 38200 Michigan Ave. in Wayne, which is open 24/7 during the strike.
“Please continue to support the UAW on strike,” said Smith. “In the long run it’s going to benefit everyone in the community.”