Auto Parts Workers Strike Over Pay Cuts, Job Cuts, New Hire Wages

After extracting massive concessions from the UAW last fall, auto parts maker Visteon woke up on May 30 with a strike on its hands at its Bedford, Indiana plant.

Picketers flipped over cars and lit them on fire, trying to block buses of scabs from entering the facility on June 1. The strikers’ local union had voted down a contract that would have drastically cut bottom-tier wages and cost the plant more than half of its 1,100 jobs.

NOT UAW

Was the UAW finally standing its ground? No, the strikers at Visteon’s Bedford, Indiana plant are members of International Union of Electronic Workers (IUE-CWA) Local 907.

After two weeks on the line, Local 907 members voted to accept a four-year contract on June 13. The vote, 528-410, reflected divisions in Local 907 around the contract.

After Visteon broke off negotiations in early June, the IUE-CWA International took over and began dealing directly with the company. Darrell Holt, a trustee of Local 907, reported that “the local negotiating team was not involved at all once corporate and the International took it over.”

Jim Clark, the head of the IUE-CWA’s automotive council who took charge of negotiations, reportedly drew angry responses from 907 members at the June 13 ratification meeting. Many members reportedly believe that the International and Visteon joined forces to impose a settlement on them.

One observer said that workers were particularly angry with 907 Vice President Tom Jones, who was quoted in the media favoring immediate settlement before the strike vote.

Under the new contract, new hires will start at $10 per hour (the same as Visteon’s original proposal). Current hourly employees will take a $0.79 an hour pay cut (instead of the originally proposed $1.04 reduction) and will begin to pay a percentage of their health insurance premiums, to be capped at $96 per month. Prescription drug co-pays will increase.

“I will still be making one cent less [per hour] at the end of this contract, just like I was at the first proposal,” said one angry 907 member. “We definitely went backward.”

WALKOUT PROVOKED

Visteon—which was a part of Ford until it was spun off in 2000—continues to be one of the automaker’s major parts suppliers. In April, Visteon had announced its intention to remove some 600 jobs producing fuel delivery modules (FDMs) from the Bedford plant.

On May 23, Local 907 members voted down a contract 534-405 that would have cut starting wages for new hires to $10 an hour (average wages are currently $16 an hour for assembly workers and $19 for skilled trades), lowered the cost of living adjustment, and included higher health care premiums and co-pays. They agreed to keep working until a settlement was reached.

Shortly after the contract expired May 30, however, Visteon began moving FDM equipment out of the plant, prompting the walk-out and mass pickets. School buses full of scabs soon arrived, accompanied by an entourage of security guards, turning the plant into what one worker called “a big fortress.”

Clashes between strikers and security guards sent 12 union picketers to the hospital, and two were arrested for disorderly conduct. The local maintained 24-hour picket lines and urged picketers to carry cameras or camcorders to document abuse by security guards.

Strikers received support from members of UAW Local 440, who work at a GM plant in Bedford, and members of IUE-CWA Local 919, which represents Visteon workers in Connersville, Indiana. Local 919 is currently negotiating its own contract with Visteon, and members went to the picket lines in Bedford to show their solidarity with Local 907.

Strikers also got a boost from a Lawrence County, Indiana judge, who rejected Visteon’s request to limit the number of picketers allowed at the plant. The judge ruled such a limit would violate workers’ First Amendment rights.

Under the new contract, new hires will start at $10 per hour.

Local and state governments, however, were not supportive. State police were brought in to assist the security guards and reportedly used excessive force against picketers.

Strikers claimed that scabs were bused across state lines from Michigan prisons, and that this arrangement was coordinated by Troy, Michigan-based union-buster Huffmaster, Inc.

Members of the UAW Solidarity Coalition (UAWSC), a network of UAW dissidents, noted that Visteon, and by extension Ford, were more aggressive with Local 907 members than the Big Three typically are with UAW strikers. Normally, management refrains from hiring scabs, and picket lines are usually sedate.

Judy Wraight, a member of UAW Local 600’s Tool & Die Unit Executive Board at the Ford Rouge plant near Detroit, observed, “Scabs are being brought across the lines within the Ford empire, yet the UAW is maintaining cozy relations with Ford and Visteon. This is a dangerous precedent.” Wraight worried that Ford and Visteon were sending a message to UAW members that they might be next.

UAW ANGLING FOR JOBS?

It appears that the UAW made a bid for the jobs defended by the IUE strikers. At the Rawsonville, Michigan Visteon plant near Detroit, UAW Local 898 was hours away from a strike in May when a tentative agreement was reached.

UAW members present at the Rawsonville ratification say that about 600 jobs from Bedford were promised to Rawsonville workers, if they voted for the local contract. Otherwise, workers were told, the jobs were “going to Mexico.”

According to a May 26 Detroit News article on the Visteon negotiations, “Employment levels at the Rawsonville plant will be tied to the fate of workers at Visteon’s powertrain plant in Bedford…The pact calls for one of the [Bedford] plant’s product lines — fuel delivery modules — to be transferred to the Rawsonville plant.”

There is no specific reference to Bedford in the union’s summary of the Rawsonville contract, but under the contract the Rawsonville plant would begin producing FDMs. The removal of FDM equipment from Bedford is what sparked the strike.

After 898’s members ratified their contract, the UAW announced the deal would bring 300 new jobs to Rawsonville. With the Bedford contract saving only 700 of the plant’s 1,100 jobs, the numbers suggest that Visteon is indeed moving 300 of the Bedford jobs to Rawsonville.

According to 907 member Glenn Irwin, “When Visteon announced the reductions in March, it said it would send the lost jobs to Mexico. But now it’s not sure. They may be going to the company’s plant in [Rawsonville].”

Ron Lare works at the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan and is a member of UAW Local 600.