‘This is what democracy looks like’: Kansas City rally supports laid off union autoworkers
Gov. Laura Kelly, center, invites other elected officials to stand next to her Wednesday at the UAW Local 31 “red shirt rally” in Kansas City, Kansas. (Lauren Fox for Kansas Reflector)
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A sea of red surrounded the local United Auto Workers union Wednesday afternoon in Kansas City, Kansas.
The UAW Local 31 hosted a “red shirt rally” and food drive in support of local auto workers who have been laid off because of the national strike against major car makers.
Hundreds of supporters came out to the rally and chanted phrases like, “Record profits, record contracts,” and, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Francine Williams, a UAW Local 31 member, held a sign during the rally that read: “Fighting for the American dream.” Williams has worked for General Motors for 24 years and said she came to the rally to support the union and fight for fair wages.
“We gave a lot of concessions when our company was in trouble. But now that they are doing better, they have forgotten about us,” Williams said. “And we are here just to get back what we deserve … a great contract to put us back to where we should be.”
The rally was held one week after the General Motors Kansas City Fairfax Assembly Plant — which employs 2,234 people — was idled. The UAW Local 31 represents more than 7,000 active and retired workers of the Fairfax plant.
In a statement, GM said the idling of the Fairfax plant was part of a “negative ripple effect” of the strike at Wentzville Assembly center in Wentzville, Missouri. The Wentzville plant provides “critical stampings” to Fairfax, and because of the strike, GM said there is no work available at the Fairfax plant.
“Our focus continues to be on bargaining in good faith with the UAW leadership to reach an agreement as quickly as possible that rewards our employees and allows GM to succeed and thrive into the future,” GM said in a statement.
The last time the UAW went on strike was in 2019, and the strike lasted six weeks. Dontay Wilson, the president of UAW Local 31, said he has no idea how long the strike will last this time.
“We’re talking about people’s livelihoods, so of course there’s some concern,” Wilson said. “But what’s more concerning is, you know, the injustice that’s going on in our contracts.”
Across the country, autoworkers have been striking against the “Big Three” Detroit-based automakers — General Motors, Stellantis and Ford — since Sept. 15. It is the first time in the union’s 88-year history that workers at all three companies have gone on strike at the same time, the Missouri Independent reported. The General Motors Wentzville Assembly center, a Ford factory in Michigan and a Stellantis plant in Ohio were the first centers the UAW selected to go on strike after contract negotiations failed.
The UAW is seeking numerous improvements to their contracts, including better benefits, higher pay, better treatment of temporary workers and an end to a tiered employment system. The employment system — one of the major issues for autoworkers — is two-tiered, the Michigan Advance reported. Autoworkers hired before 2007 make about $33 per hour and are eligible for pensions, whereas workers hired after 2007 make less money and have worse benefits.
Hazel Davis, a former General Motors employee of 34 years, said she came to the rally on Wednesday because she wants all the current autoworkers to have the same retirement benefits and stability that she has.
“I came out here to support my local union brothers and sisters for higher wages, (cost of living adjustment), pension, all of those things that were taken away,” Davis said. “It takes all of those things to live when you retire.”
Notable appearances were made at Wednesday’s rally by Gov. Laura Kelly, Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Tyrone Garner and Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas, who all sported red.
Kelly invited all elected officials who were at the event to join her, and told the crowd not to forget their names and faces as the 2024 elections approach.
“We’re going to get you what you need before that,” Kelly added.
She said that the autoworkers deserve a “living wage” and their “fair share.”
Garner said labor is what fuels communities and the autoworkers should have the benefits and salary to build generational wealth for their families. Lucas said the reason the crowd gathered “on this hot day” was to stand for workers across America “to get what they are owed.”
“And what you are owed is justice. What you are owed is fair pay. What you are owed are benefits. What you are owed is health care. And what you are owed is just a little bit of what the CEO gets,” Lucas said.
Wilson said it was “amazing” to see the large crowd at Wednesday’s rally.
“It feels like democracy. It feels like union. It feels like solidarity,” he said.
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