GM workers in Wentzville among first in nation to strike: 'People are living paycheck to paycheck'
Work at the General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, came to a halt Friday, as the members of the United Auto Workers joined workers at two other Midwest auto plants on strike. The union is calling for the automaker to increase pay 46% over four years.
Work at the General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville came to a halt Friday, as the members of the United Auto Workers joined workers at two other Midwest auto plants on strike.
Members of Local 2250 began picketing outside the plant early Friday to call attention to the impasse with GM. The union is calling for the automaker to increase their pay by 46% over four years.
On Friday morning, drivers honked their horns and waved at about 15 UAW members holding picket signs outside one of the plant’s gates. Some workers dressed in neon green safety vests walked silently, carrying blue-and-white signs that read “UAW on Strike.”
The strike is the first at the Wentzville plant since 2019. After that work stoppage, workers received a pair of 3% wage increases and 4% lump sum payments over four years.
“We need enough money to pay our bills to feed our kids,” said Debbie Smith, who has worked at the plant for 12 years. “Groceries and gas have gone up — practically doubled since 2019. People are living paycheck to paycheck and just aren't surviving.”
Smith is one of nearly 4,000 workers at the Wentzville plant. When she first started at GM, she made about $15 an hour and now earns $32 an hour. She said she can barely support herself on that and wants concessions from GM.
“We are trying to get ourselves better wages,” she said. “In 2019, I think we settled for a little — not enough.”
Workers at a Stellantis assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, and part of a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich., also walked off the job in what UAW President Shawn Fain has called a “stand up strike."
Nearly 13,000 union members are on strike at the three locations — less than 9% of UAW’s 150,000 members at the three companies.
Workers at other plants could go on strike soon under the union’s strategy to put pressure on the automakers by disrupting their operations. The UAW’s contract with GM, Ford and Stellantis expired Thursday.
The union is seeking a pay increase that would allow the highest-paid factory workers at the Wentzville plant to earn $47 an hour, a $15-an-hour increase. Workers also are calling for GM to eliminate a two-tiered pay system and implement a 32-hour workweek for 40 hours' pay.
The proposal GM leaders presented to UAW leaders last week included a 10% wage increase.
Besides higher pay, the union is seeking more vacation time and calling for GM to restore traditional-defined benefit pension plans for those hired after 2007 and make changes that would allow workers to have an improved work-life balance.
The nearly two-month 2019 strike cost Missouri’s economy more than $40 million a week, according to some estimates.
Workers in Wentzville say they are worried about the economic impact of the strike, particularly nearby businesses.
“It's going to hurt big time, because there's a lot of small businesses around here that support this place,” said Connie Songer, an assembly plant driver who plans to retire at the end of the year after 45 years.
Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.