WAYNE, Mich. (WXYZ) — At midnight Friday, workers at the Ford Assembly plant in Wayne began walking off the job as a part of the United Auto Workers "Stand up Strike".
This after the UAW and Detroit's Big 3 failed to strike a deal before their Thursday night deadline on wages and benefits for nearly 150,000 autoworkers at Ford, GM and Stellantis.
"Nobody should have to work next to somebody who’s making half of what they’re making. That’s ridiculous," said Michael Bonner who was a part of the picket line Friday morning.
Bonner says in the 32 years he's worked at Ford as a hi-lo driver, he hasn't seen a raise.
"We gave in to concessions when the company needed it. Well now the company is making profits, it’s time to give the back the concessions we gave," said Bonner.
Workers are asking for a double digit pay increase, a 32 hour work week and retiree benefits such as COLA (cost of living allowance), pensions and healthcare. While all three automakers have made counter offers, none were accepted before the contract expired Thursday night.
"Cost of living is going up and we shouldn’t decide if we can get groceries or gas. We should still be middle class and it’s dwindling," said Brandon Bell who has worked on the engine line at Ford for the last three years. "Ford was notorious for being able to pay their employees a wage that they could afford the vehicle. I can’t go buy a new F-150. Neither can most of our coworkers. Our hiring wage is lower than McDonald’s right now, the higher end wages. We just want to get to a livable wage to be able to afford comfortable housing."
The first round of the stand up strike targeted workers at the Ford plant in Wayne, a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio and a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri.
"Until they can come to the table with a straight face, an honest face and deal honestly with us, I really believe everybody will stand together and stand out here and stand up for what’s right," said Sandy Kirkland who has worked for Ford for 25 years.
UAW union president Shawn Fain is implementing a new strategy for this strike period, only targeting a limited number of facilities at a time with the ability to add more workers at different plants to the strike as time drags on.
"If he had wanted a very disruptive strike and to go to the mat at the very beginning, he could have taken all these companies out and he chose not to do that," said Wayne State University Professor Marick Masters.
Masters says the strike strategy is somewhat modest in approach but targets plants that help to produce a significant number of popular products.
Masters says depending on the automakers willingness to bargain or give up more in their next counter offers, the union may decide to strike at more assembly plants next. If the automakers refuse to budge, Masters says Fain may choose to strike at components plants next which would have a much more detrimental impact faster.
"If he sees reluctance to budge on anything, I think he has no choice but to ratchet up the pressure," said Masters. "I think the companies are going to have to give more on wages and they’re going to have to give more on in-progression status and temporary worker status. I think that they can manage that. I think the sooner they get to the table and iron out these details the better off they’ll be."
Masters says it is important that the union is willing to compromise on things like the 32 hour work week, retiree healthcare or defined pension benefits otherwise it will be near impossible to reach a deal anytime soon. He also added it is likely that the companies will make counter moves to protect the integrity of their businesses like closing plants or locking workers out if the strike persists.
Workers say they hope the strike is short lived.