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Kokomo UAW workers rally ahead of possible strike

Kokomo UAW Rally
Kokomo UAW Rally 2
Kokomo UAW Rally 3
Posted at 11:16 PM, Sep 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-13 23:16:37-04

KOKOMO — The robust Kokomo auto industry could come to a screeching halt this week due to a possible United Auto Workers strike. A rally allowed people in the city to show their support to auto workers before the likely work stoppage.

Hundreds of auto workers and supporters flocked to Foster Park Wednesday evening, most of whom dressed in red for solidarity.

"The middle class is falling behind while everyone else is moving up," said Mike Jackson, a unionized employee at the Kokomo Casting Plant.

"We have been taken advantage of for too long and it's about time we stand up and fight for our rights," said Kym Dieselberg, a union worker employed at several Stellantis factories across Kokomo in the span of two decades.

UAW workers across the country will strike against the Big Three automakers if a labor deal is not reached by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday.

About 6,000 UAW workers are employed in Kokomo auto plants to make parts for Stellantis — formerly Chrysler. That includes the Indiana Transmission Plant, represented by UAW Local 685, and the Kokomo Casting Plant, represented by UAW Local 1166.

"We've got to stand together back to back, arm to arm, and show these people we're here," said UAW Local 1166 President Dave Willis. "We've got stuff to do and we've got stuff to prove."

Many UAW employees are upset with Stellantis' system of hiring temporary employees for a prolonged period of time.

"They don't get paid for this like we do, they don't get the benefits we do, but they have to work more than we do or sent home if they're not needed," said Brooke Hines, a five-year employee of Local 658 who said it took her eight months to move from temporary to full-time status. "We're still paycheck to paycheck and we're damaging our bodies for this job."

The national push for change is led by a local voice: UAW President Shawn Fain is a Kokomo native who started his career at the Kokomo Casting Plant and Local 1166.

Jackson worked alongside Fain at the casting plant. He said he will follow Fain's lead, even if that means walking off the job.

"He's from our local union here, but his heart is for the whole UAW," Jackson said. "I've seen it on several occasions."

The countdown to a possible strike is in its final hours, and the UAW employees at Kokomo's rally are not afraid to grab a picket sign.

"We're not just fighting for unions, we're fighting for everybody because corporate greed has gotten way out of control," Dieselberg said.