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Why UAW workers say they are on strike

(Valaurian Waller for The Washington Post)

More than 12,000 workers are striking at the Big Three automakers in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri.

UAW Ford workers say they are striking because they are not making enough money to support their families or their futures.

“We have our limits too,” said Kevin Ewald, a Ford employee who has worked at the company for nearly three decades. He wants his newer colleagues to be paid more for doing “bone-breaking” work.

UAW workers began striking just after midnight Friday morning after failing to reach a deal with the Big Three autoworkers, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

See where UAW workers are striking

The union demanded 36 percent wage increases for workers over four years, saying that wages have not kept up with inflation. Full-time workers make about $18 to $32 an hour while CEOs at the Big Three companies each made more than $20 million in overall compensation last year, figures the union used to justify its demands for higher worker wages. The UAW also wants an end to tiered employment system, which means that newer workers get lower pay and have worse benefits. The companies countered that they are offering bigger wage increases than they have in years but can’t meet all of the union’s demands and stay viable.

The auto industry has been a major backbone for Detroit and surrounding areas for decades, and many striking workers come from families where multiple members have worked in the auto industry. Several workers had been working for automakers for nearly their whole careers and have a deep appreciation for cars — all of them remember when they owned their first.

On Friday we asked those workers why they are striking. Here’s what some of them said:

Romulus, Mich. | Assembly line worker

  • Time at Ford: 3.5 years
  • Pay: $24/hr
  • First car: Mercury Cougar

Robbins, who has a three-year-old son, said she thought she might be laid off instead of participating in a historic strike. “I’m just trying to take care of my family,” she said. “I thought the only history I would have made was that I made ventilators during the pandemic [at Ford].”

She wants this job to help her build her future. Robbins said she has to take on side jobs to make ends meet. “Before covid, I was about to get my hands on a Ranger,” she said. “But we work at Ford, and can’t even afford to drive the cars we make.”

Ypsilanti, Mich. | Ford driver

  • Time at Ford: 28 years
  • Salary: $32/hr
  • First car: Ford Gran Torino

Ewald said he is striking for the new generation of autoworkers who are dealing with the tiered payment system.

“People now are getting hired at $16.70 an hour and these are bone-breaking jobs we’re doing in there and that’s not right,” he said. “It’s not really about me.”

After 28 years at the company, he feels he is set up well for the future. But he worries about his newer colleagues.

“[Ford CEO] Jim Farley came out the other day and said there are limits and I hope he realizes that it goes both ways,” he said. “We have our limits too.”

Jackson, Mich. | Ford production team member

UAW employee Lee Maybanks picketed outside a car manufacturing plant in Detroit on Sept. 15. (Video: Rich Matthews/TWP)

  • Years at Ford: 1 year and 9 months
  • Salary: $19.10/hr
  • First car: Oldsmobile 98

Dearborn, Mich. | Ford assembly line worker

  • Time at Ford: 1 month
  • Salary: $16.67 /hr
  • First car: Ford Taurus

Jomaa said she works a second job as an aesthetician, but worries about her colleagues who don’t have another job to help support their families. She works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ford, then heads to her other job from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

“It’s a lot, but Ford’s not helping me. I get paid $16 bucks an hour. It’s nothing especially when you have kids,” she said.

Westland, Mich. | Ford repair man

  • Time at Ford: 29 years
  • Salary: $32/hr
  • First car: Ford Escort

Williams comes from a family of autoworkers — both his mom and dad retired from Chrysler. But, he says he believes wages have not been enough to keep up with inflation.

“We’re not making enough money” he said. “People should be able to buy their own houses, but right now it’s not possible.”

He also wants to make sure the company takes care of retirees. “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Detroit | Ford assembly line worker

  • Time at Ford: 4 months
  • Salary: $16.67/hr
  • First car: Chevy Cruze

Thompson hopes the strike doesn’t drag on, but she’s excited to fight for cost-of-living wage increases as bill payments and food costs go up.

“I’m barely making enough to get by,” she said. “I’m mostly just worried about pay. I’m just here for the money.”

Livonia, Mich. | Ford body and stamping work

  • Time at Ford: 49.5 years
  • Salary: $32.56/hr (started $4.35 in 1974)
  • First car: 1969 Pontiac LeMans

Kanowski has spent much of his life working for Ford — starting at the company in 1974 when he was just 18 years old.

He said he’s unsure if he and his colleagues will be laid off. But he thinks newer colleagues deserve the same opportunities he had.

“Back in the 70s when I started, after 90 days, I got the same thing as the legacy guy. Now it takes people four to six years to get the same thing,” he said. “It’s not fair.”

He said workers had to make concessions in 2007 and 2008 when automakers were hurting during the Great Recession, but now that they are profitable “they never gave any of that stuff back to us.”

Redford, Mich. | Ford classified inspector

UAW employee Shaniell Davis picketed outside a car manufacturing plant in Detroit on Sept. 15. (Video: Rich Matthews/The Washington Post)

  • Time at Ford: 12 years
  • Salary: $32 per hour
  • First car: GM Saturn

Editing by Karly Domb Sadof, Haley Hamblin and John Farrell.

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