The Journal Gazette
Saturday, October 05, 2019 1:00 am

Strikers staying unified

Local 2209: Community support strong

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Progress has been made, but the two sides still have a ways to go, said UAW Local 2209 president Holli Murphy. 

That was the message Murphy received Friday from a United Auto Workers negotiator. Some progress had been made on the status of temporary workers and health care, she reported. Friday marked Day 19 of the nationwide strike by the UAW's 49,000 members against General Motors.  

Even though the negotiations don't appear to be ending soon, the 4,300 local UAW strikers manning pickets and burn barrels outside the seven GM gates aren't backing down, and they're finding great encouragement in community support. 

“I walked them out (at midnight), and the community support was already standing at the gates,” Murphy said. Friends, GM retirees, neighbors and family, about 200 people altogether, were waiting at the gates Sept. 16 when Murphy shut down the third shift. “This (union) hall has not closed since we walked them out.” 

Strikers' spirits “are still high and community support is overwhelming,” Murphy said. 

Since that night, donations have poured in. The list is so long that Jamie Teller, Guide Local 2209, said she hadn't had time to type it up when she turned up in Murphy's office Friday afternoon, holding pages of lined sheet paper in her hand. 

Mindy Rogers, field coordinator for the Hoosier Heartland Area Labor Federation that includes the AFL-CIO, popped in to the union hall on Huntington County Road East 900 North on Friday with formula, diapers and other items for workers with babies and toddlers who might find the price somewhat daunting. 

“One can of that formula – and I got the generic brand – is 20 bucks,” Rogers said. “We work super close with these guys and gals.”

Every day, strikers are treated to coffee and doughnuts from Dunkin' Donuts and Tim Horton's, the vendor that sells inside the plants, Murphy said. 

Another of Murphy's visitors inside her busy office, Union 2209 trustee Dave Bartkowiak, recalled some of the great food prepared for the strikers. 

“Big Lacy's,” Bartkowiak said referring to Big Lacy's BBQ on Winter Street. “They donated a ton of stuff. Their chicken was awesome.” 

Another memorable meal came from Andy's Knockout Chicken in New Haven. “He went to the gates with chicken. He fried it for them there,” Barkowiak said. 

Bartkowiak appears in a rap video “Burn Barrel – Strike Anthem,” written and produced by GM worker Richard Spriggs II. Spriggs and Justin Wade lead the rap with a number of their comrades. The video can be found on YouTube by searching for the video's title.

Mancino's Pizza and Grinders in New Haven, owned by Tabitha and Kevin Gray, has been generous with pizza deliveries, Murphy said. 

GM strikers who show their badge at Mancino's get a 50% discount, according to Mandi Kelley, one of Mancino's managers. Kevin Gray is a GM retiree and Tabitha Gray worked there, both Kelley and Murphy said.

Pizza Hut recently delivered 40 pizzas for the strikers, Murphy added. 

Car dealerships have shown their support with donations. Huntington Chevrolet and City Chevrolet of Columbia City each donated a shuttle van to transport strikers from the command post at the union hall to some of the gates where parking alongside the road isn't possible, Murphy said. 

Summit City Chevrolet of Fort Wayne has also made donations to the striker's cause, and Tom Kelley of Kelley Automotive Group in Fort Wayne donated 700 bags of food for the temporary workers last weekend, Murphy said.

Temporary workers, according to the strikers, don't make as much money as full-time workers, and no one earns as much money as workers did in 2007. Wages haven't bounced back since before the 2008 recession and when the U.S. government bailed out GM.

Strikers hope to bridge the disparity in wages between full-time and temporary workers, sporting T-shirts with “No more Tiers” printed on them. 

Main issues include health care, wages, job security, a permanent employment path for temporary workers and maintaining skilled trades at the plants instead of outsourcing them. 

Three weeks into the strike, Murphy said she has already processed “a lot of hardship letters.” 

At the gates, truck drivers and people in cars honked their support as they roared off Interstate 69. But even with all the momentum, Jen More, one of Friday's strike leaders at Gate 2 with her husband Travis, said she has uneasy moments. 

“My biggest fear would be the company would shut down,” she said. “But I don't think so.”

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