(The Dallas Examiner) – “The Stand Up Strike” – the stoppage of work by members of the United Auto Workers at some Ford, GM, and Stellantis locations – began Sept. 15 when UAW representatives and negotiation partners at the aforementioned Big Three could not agree on the specifics of new contracts for union employees.
As a result, picket lines have continued to pop up across the U.S. as the total number of strikers rises to 25,000 UAW members and their supporters at 43 facilities in 21 states, according to the UAW website.
The strike includes the Stellantis Dallas location on Beltline Road in Carrollton. The Chrysler Mopar Parts Distribution Center has seen continuous striking workers from the Local UAW 2360, Region 8, walking the picket line as talks between union and management continue.
On a recent Saturday, Yves Milsap, first shift steward for the distribution center, expressed a localized viewpoint of the nationwide strike.
“I’m here standing with my brothers and sisters, in solidarity on this strike, because in 2008 when I started, they promised to give us a lot of things in order to keep this company afloat, and we didn’t get any of it,”
Milsap, called “Captain” by many of his fellow strikers, listed a few of the specifics the UAW wants from management.
“They promised that we would get our COLAs [cost-of-living-adjustments] back; they took that away. They promised that we would have pensions back; they took that away.
“In order for us to be hired they put us in a two-tiered system. So, some of us had to take anywhere between a $4/hour to a $10/hour pay cut, just to be hired – and it took us eight years to get back to top pay,” he said of just some of the benefits excised from contracts due to The Great Recession of 2007-2009.
The captain also mentioned that it was 10 years before union employees at the Chrysler Mopar plant saw a 6% pay raise – but that came at a time of a 20% increase in inflation. He claimed that there have been health benefit cutbacks for retirees with pensions. Plants will be shuttered in some regions.
Local work conditions are an issue of contention as well.
“Most people don’t understand. We don’t have air conditioning in the building I work in. Here in Dallas, when it’s 100 degrees, it’s 105 to 110 in that building,” he voiced.
In February, The Texas Tribune revealed in an article that the state reached a two-decade high for heat-related deaths in 2022, based upon data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The majority of those deaths appeared to be people without air conditioning, individuals experiencing homelessness, or migrants crossing the southern border.
It’s just a shame that they can’t afford…” Milsap paused, correcting himself. “…They say they can’t afford to pay us a decent wage.”
He complained that the core problem was simply corporate greed.
“If you look at the company that I work for, they made $12 billion in profit – that’s after they paid their bills – in the first six months of this year.”
On the Stellantis website, a press release published July 26 highlighted that the company “…Set New Records in Net Revenues, AOI(1) and Net Profit in the First Half of 2023.” The company showed a net profit of €10.9 billion – or $10,974,120,000 – as of an Oct. 12 Euros-to-dollars conversion rate from Bank of America.
One complicating factor in negotiations with the Big Three is that the company which now controls the contracts is not the same company that originally provided the contracts to the employees. Milsap insisted that should not let negotiators off the hook.
“I understand that we’re on our third company as far as starting off with Chrysler, going through Daimler, going through Fiat, you know, FCA,” he said.
“But still, when you bought the company you know what you bought,” he remarked upon the assets and liabilities of the company, along with what the due-diligence investigation would have revealed to the entities which merged to become Stellantis.
“We’re just asking for what we were promised.”
The numbers of those asking continues to grow.
The private Facebook group, UAW Speak Out 2023 Contract was created seven years ago. It now has 12,550 total members, with more than 150 joining within the past week, indicating that members of the union have been looking forward to new contracts for some time.
As the local contingent of The Stand Up Strike continued, now and then cars whooshed by, their drivers honking their horns in support of the protestors.
“It makes me feel inspired because you have a lot of people out there just trying to survive, which is basically what we’re doing,” Milsap said.
The captain considered what he would demand if he were at the table with the negotiators and could end the strike within a day. His first thoughts were for those who came before him.
“I would say, give our retirees a 10% raise, and then give them cost-of-living back. Give them a better health care plan.”
His thoughts then turned to those who are current union employees.
“Give us a 25-to-30% pay raise over the next four years, on top of everything that you have already agreed to,” he said, referring to the 2008 agreement that kept company management from defaulting on debts.
“And then, we can sit down and really discuss it at that point. But right now, we’re nowhere near close,” he admitted. “You want the ability sell off or close plants, and that’s going to kill jobs. We definitely really want to get rid of that off the table,” calling that “non-negotiable.”
“We still have families at home as well, and we want to be able to survive,” the captain added.
“If you realize, you work in retail, if we don’t have enough money to survive, then we can’t go out and buy things. We can barely spend money at the grocery store, so the grocery stores are going to start to cut back on their employees.”
Grocerydive.com reports that the number of self-checkout lanes in the U.S. has increased by 10% in the last five years – mirroring the replacement of human workers on auto assembly lines by robot technology throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
There are more online sales these days, Milsap suggested, because so many brick-and-mortar stores could no longer be profitable as more people had less to spend.
“… Because you’ve got the corporate greed. They want to be able to continue to buy their yachts every year; upgrade cars and phones. They want to buy a mansion over here, in L.A. and New York,” Milsap complained.
“We just want a house where we can raise our kids, you know, in a decent neighborhood. Be able to keep our lights on,” he concluded. “You shouldn’t be able to have to worry about retirement…”