BEDFORD, Ind.-- For the first time in 12 years the United Auto Workers has called a nationwide strike against General Motors and nearly one out of seven of those striking employees are in Indiana.
At least 46,000 GM employees walked off the job at one minute before midnight last night. Almost seven thousand workers are employed at four plants in Indiana.
There are 745 members of UAW Local 440 in Lawrence County who work at the Bedford Casting Operation.
“We’re not only fighting for us. We’re fighting for America,” said Local 440 President Kevin Hutchinson. “We’re fighting for people who have been displaced because their plants have closed. GM has taken those jobs to Mexico.”
Talks on a new contract broke down over the weekend in Detroit.
In a statement, GM claimed it had offered the union promises of 5,400 new jobs, upgrades at eight plants, plans to reutilize two closed factories, annual raises for four years, competitive national medical care benefits, improved profit sharing and $7 billion in investments.
Striking workers said they surrendered financial benefits and job protection to help GM survive bankruptcy a decade ago and now that the automaker has rightsized itself and returned to profitability, its time for employees to share in that recovery.
“During their time of need we helped them,” said Carol Howard, a 25-year GM veteran. “We sacrificed. We gave up many many things. Every GM worker, every UAW worker gave up something for them to be able to make the kind of money they’re making now and now its time for them to give us back what we gave them.”
One worker told CBS4 that Bedford was his seventh plant assignment at GM after other factories were shuttered.
“They’ve been able to come here,” said Hutchinson. “They’re seniority employees. Their lives have been destroyed. They move away from home, families, properties, whatever to come here.”
Hutchinson said the UAW wants permanent full-time employee status for the 65 temporary workers at the Bedford location.
“They’re working side by side with a traditional union member and yet they’re not getting the benefits of it. They’re working just as hard.”
Industry analysts predict GM could weather a strike for two to three weeks before feeling a pinch in the marketplace.
The UAW has boosted its strike pay to $250 a week and told members to tighten their belts.
“The younger workers have never been through anything like this so I guess they don’t understand anything like this,” said Howard. “We have put together a food bank. We got extra money coming in to help these workers to get through this because if this goes on for any amount of time a lot of those kids are going to be in need, great need.”
GM workers are also picketing outside factories in Fort Wayne, Marion and Kokomo.
The strikers said they are counting on the support of the Bedford community for the duration of the walkout.
To that end, Hutchinson said a local GM dealer donated 45 cases of water and a canopy for striker s who are manning the picket lines on GM Drive outside the Bedford plant.