Solidarity is key for UAW Local 31 strike at GM’s Fairfax Assembly Plant

This sign said it all: solidarity is a key word for UAW members. This entrance sign to the Local 31 parking lot prohibits foreign vehicles. The lot was full of U.S.-made vehicles and only a few offenders were parked across the road. (Staff photo)

by Richard Ward

“We’re just asking to get back what we gave up in 2008,” said Clarence “C.B.” Brown, president of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 31. “Two groups stepped forward to save General Motors when they were crashing in 2008. The unions made major labor concessions and the American taxpayers provided bailout funds. We’re on strike now to get GM to live up to their obligations to both the workers and the public that made their continued existence possible.”

The UAW strike against GM began at midnight Saturday, Sept. 14, when their 4-year contract expired without an agreement on the major differences in a new 4-year contract. The UAW represents nearly 50,000 workers at manufacturing and assembly plants in the United States for GM. Ford and Fiat-Chrysler. The union decided to begin negotiations with GM and use an agreement with the company as a model for future talks with the other two.

Local 31 president Clarence “C.B.” Brown, right, provided last-minute updates to a departing truck load of UAW members to the picket line at the Fairfax Assembly Plant. (Staff photo)

Brown continued, “Sometimes people think strikes are just about more wages for employees. But, there’s more at stake this time than just salaries. We don’t want to be on strike, we want to be working so that we can continue to provide financial support to the communities where we live by spending those wages in the local economy.”

In an interview at the union’s local office, 500 Kindelberger Road in Kansas City, Kansas, Brown also expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of support from the local community. He said the key to quickly settling the strike is solidarity.

“When our members ask me ‘How long will we strike?’ I can only say I hope it’s just a few days, but if it’s a few months, then we’re in it for the duration,” he said. “With help from our supporters, we have to plan for an uncertain future.”

Shelly Taylor, left, and Melissa Freeman, took a lunch break from the picket line at UAW Local 31’s headquarters. The facility is the central location for workers walking the picket line around the clock, 24/7. (Staff photo)

“We’re receiving donations for our pantry and strike fund from family members and relatives of our workers. People in the Wyandotte community and outlying neighborhoods are helping lend a hand, too. Members of other unions in the area have stepped up and are joining us on our picket line at the Fairfax plant,” he said.

Workers who staff the picket line, checked in and checked out for shifts inside the Local 31 offices at 500 Kindelberger Road in KCK. (Staff photo)

“Our members who were working the plant’s third shift clocked out at 11:59 p.m. and immediately checked in to the picket line that was forming when the GM contract expired at 12 midnight,” he said.

Administration, information and policy discussions for Local 31 required never-ending coordination by staff inside the management offices of the union. (Staff photo)

According to UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, in an internal advisory letter to the UAW membership on Sept 5, the union is seeking a range of concessions including those related to wages, classification of workers, closing of plants and health care.

GM wants employees to pay a greater portion of their health care costs, and to increase work force productivity and flexibility in factories.

According to reports in the Detroit Free Press, “the company has been earning substantial profits in North America — and it made $8.1 billion globally last year — it has idled three plants in the United States as car sales slide and overall demand for vehicles weakens.”

The Local 31 parking lot was filled with U.S.-made cars and trucks loading workers for the picket line. (Staff photo)

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