Auto Parts Workers Battle Demand to Cut Wages in Half

Published on the monthly Labor Notes Magazine no. 349, by Wendy Thompson, April 2008.

Holbrook Avenue is a busy thoroughfare stretching from I-75 to downtown Hamtramck, a small town enclosed on all sides by Detroit. Cars honk in support of striking members of UAW Local 235 as they pass five picket lines filled 24 hours a day on both sides of the street along the large American Axle and Manufacturing (AAM) complex.

There are five more lines going south on St. Aubin Street, and two to the north. Spirits are high, and strikers are dressed warmly to face the bitter tail of winter weather.

More than 3,600 American Axle workers have been on strike since February 26 at this plant and four other plants in Detroit and Three Rivers, Michigan, and two Buffalo suburbs, Cheektowaga and Tonawanda, New York. The plants produce the axles and parts for every General Motors light truck and SUV built in North America. Their chokehold on auto production was quickly felt: 28 GM plants at press time have stopped their lines as a result of the strike …

… UNION PROMISED CUTS

After the strike began, documents surfaced from negotiations showing that prior to the strike, the UAW International had been willing to cut both skilled trades and production workers’ wages by up to $5 an hour.


American Axle said it has offered the union at the table retirement incentives, buy-outs, and lump sum payments in exchange for permanently lower wages. (Many in the workforce have put in almost 15 years and would be foregoing secure pension and health care benefits if they accepted lump sum payments.)

At an informational meeting at Local 235, members told international reps that they would not pass a contract that contained deep cuts. Several locals have passed motions to see the actual contract language at least a week before the vote and to have observers at the ballot boxes and during the vote count.

Many of the strikers have been moved by the picket line solidarity.

Our members have been surprised by the support from the community, which is just as good if not better after three weeks, said Kevin Bushouse, an executive board member at Local 2093 in Three Rivers.

Many of us see how important it will be for us to support others when their time of need comes. (full text).

(Wendy Thompson is a retired president of UAW Local 235 who was on the national bargaining committee in 2004 and worked at the Detroit Axle plant for 33 years. She is also on the steering committee of Shifting Gears).

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