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UAW strike anniversary: Reflecting on a challenging year

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 5:40 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Wednesday, September 16 marks one year since upwards of 50,000 UAW workers went on strike nationwide against General Motors.

“I don’t think anyone anticipated the length of the strike, but some of us were prepared, some weren’t," said Paul Muehlenbeck, Jr., with Local 598 in Flint.

The 40 day strike went down in the history books as the longest national work stoppage the country has seen in decades.

“When something like that happens, everyone comes together. It’s brother and sister, organized, so we help each other out and not let anybody fail,” Muehlenbeck added.

Workers went on strike calling for better wages, health insurance, job security, and a path for temp workers to obtain full time status, among others.

“Our membership is always there, and the way they responded, the way the community responded a year ago we’ll never forget that. It’s always going to be a part of our history,” said Local 598 financial secretary Chad Fabbro.

The 40 days proved to be a challenging time, with $275 in strike pay for workers-- a fraction of what many workers take home pay was.

Credit cards were racked up, health insurance was treated like a light switch. On one day, off the next, then back on.

The nights grew colder and the anxiety over how much longer the strike would last insidiously set in.

Eventually a new contract was ratified Oct. 26 last year. But just as things were starting to go back to normal heading into 2020.

“I think that took us all by surprise too. There was a lot of anxiety,” Muehlenbeck added.

COVID-19 shut down automotive plants across the country for two months.

Eventually, plants opened back up with strict health and safety guidelines in place. The UAW says the combined effort of GM, the union and workers has resulted in only a handful of cases of COVID-19.

“It’s one of those things, when you put those boots on in the morning, you know that they’re not just my boots. I’m walking for 5,500 other people,” Fabbro added.

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