KOKOMO — The auto industry built Kokomo, but the factories that made the city famous will likely go silent next week due to a labor dispute.
The United Auto Workers union will strike against the Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis — if a labor agreement is not reached by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday. More than 150,000 auto workers would walk off the job if the UAW strikes, including about 6,000 Stellantis employees in Kokomo.
UAW Local 1166 represents more than 1,000 workers at the Kokomo Casting Plant, which manufactures vital parts for Dodge, Ram, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles.
Local 1166 president Dave Willis said Stellantis needs to treat Kokomo's employees better.
"It's hard to know that I have people in my plant that can't get what they need," Willis said. "Some of them are even working second jobs. These are some of the best blue-collar jobs in the world and they have to work second jobs to make ends meet and raise a family."
UAW President Shawn Fain, a Kokomo native who started his career with Local 1166, has demanded the Big Three increase wages for union members by 40% over the course of four years. He also demanded increased retirement benefits, including a pension and retiree healthcare, and moving employees to a 32-hour work week.
"It's harder and harder to see a future for ourselves in this economy," Fain said during a Facebook Live on the UAW's social media page this week. "Auto workers have been on the frontlines of that."
Willis hopes the new agreement will also end tiered salaries, which he sees as unfair for his union members.
"In my plant, you have two diecasters: one makes $30 an hour and the other makes $15 an hour," Willis said. "That's not right in anyone's book."
In addition to the Kokomo Casting Plant, a work stoppage would affect the Kokomo Engine Plant, two Stellantis transmission plants in Kokomo, and an additional Stellantis transmission plant in nearby Tipton.