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'I'm here for the long haul': Striking UAW Jeep workers in Toledo say they're committed to the cause

Negotiations were set to resume Monday between UAW and Stellantis. Workers striking at the Jeep plant said their spirits remain high.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Workers on the picket lines at Jeep's Toledo Assembly Complex Monday said their spirits remain high on day four of the UAW's strike.

The Toledo plant was one of three chosen by UAW leadership for a "stand-up strike" when negotiations with the Big 3 Detroit automakers failed to yield new agreements by the expiration of the previous contracts late Thursday.

Early Friday morning, more than 5,000 Toledo Jeep workers walked off the job, along with workers at a Ford plant in Detroit and a General Motors plant in Missouri.

The workers see the strike as a blow to fairness, they told WTOL 11 early Monday. Not only has the UAW demanded pay increases of at least 36% over four years, but they want an end to what they see as an unfair wage-tier system and reduced benefits for some workers.

And they're prepared to stand their ground on strike for as long as it takes to get the contract they want, workers said Monday.

"I'm here for the long haul," said Jerry Gunn. "If I have to be out here in rain, sleet, snow, thunderstorm, tornado, I'm striking."

UAW President Shawn Fain has said the three plants now on strike could be just the beginning of talks, which resumed over the weekend after a break Friday, still don't lead to a new agreement.

Workers from more plants could join the picket lines if a deal remains out of reach, he said.

“It could be in a day, it could be in a week," Fain said.

Workers outside the Jeep plant Monday morning said they didn't want to walk off the job, but were hopeful the strike would lead to a more fair pay and benefits system for all workers. The wage tiers and reduced benefits for new hires were part of contracts in which union autoworkers made concessions during the Great Recession and now it is time for the companies to repay them with more generous terms, they said.

For Jeep workers outside the assembly plant in north Toledo, it's the first time in over 50 years anyone has had to hit the picket lines.

"We're all a little nervous, but it's just the beginning of it. We're all in the long run," Kyle O'Shae, a UAW Local 12 strike captain.

That nervousness often stems from questions about finances, like; how long can they live off of $500 a week of strike pay?

"A lot of people are paycheck to paycheck and they're scared," said UAW Local 12 Strike Captain James Neu.

But with negotiations showing no signs of progress, the striking union members are settling in for the long haul. And for the first time, they're really getting to know each other.

"We're spread out throughout the plant. We don't get a chance to actually interact with each other, so now we're finding out a lot of information about each other, common interests, we're forming a family so to speak," Neu said.

The longer they strike, the more it's caught the attention of the public as community members drop off snacks and gifts.

Politicians both near and far have visited as well, offering moral support as the strikers continue to press on, unsure of when they will return to work.

"I love the solidarity, I love that people aren't just in it for themselves," said visiting Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). "They're in it for the part-time workers, the next workers after them. This is something the whole country is watching."

Credit: WTOL
United Auto Workers on strike at Toledo's Jeep plant, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023.

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