Ford Motor announced that 600 non-striking workers have been temporarily laid off, hours after workers in a separate part of the factory walked off the job early this morning. Leaders at the United Auto Workers early Friday tapped employees there to kick off a historic strike against the Big Three, drawing national attention to the small town of Wayne, Michigan.
The Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne is one of three locations run by each of Detroit’s three automakers selected by the UAW for targeted strikes against the Big Three, after failing to reach a new labor agreement by a Thursday night deadline. Workers at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri, and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio, were also commanded by union leaders to leave their posts.
Ford said in a statement that the 600 employees it laid off are tied to the stoppage of work caused by those who did not to come to work on Friday due to the UAW strike.
“This layoff is a consequence of the strike at Michigan Assembly Plant’s final assembly and paint departments, because the components built by these 600 employees use materials that must be e-coated for protection,” Ford said in a statement Friday. “E-coating is completed in the paint department, which is on strike.”
Wayne, Michigan, with a population of roughly 17,000, is a suburb about 45 minutes west of Detroit consisting mainly of blue-collar and middle-class families. The Ford plant there employs about 3,300 workers, most of whom make Bronco SUVs and Ranger midsize pickup trucks. UAW President Shawn Fain visited the Wayne plant Friday and said the union’s strike will continue until Ford, GM and Stellantis (which owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram) pay workers a better wage.
The Wayne plant feels like two separate worlds, said Pete Gruich, 56, who has worked there for 25 years.
The plant is divided into a body shop on one side and an assembly line on the other. The body shop side is a slower-paced environment where the full-body paint process happens, Gruich said. The final assembly side has “a hectic pace and there’s no down time,” he told CBS MoneyWatch.
“When somebody takes a day off at final (assembly), it takes two people to do that job, sometimes three, because the jobs are so overloaded,” he said.
Gruich said there’s also division among the employees, between those who make the higher-tier wages and the ones who earn less. That’s because managers tell lower-tier employees that they’ll move them to the upper tier wages once a top-tier worker has retired, but that rarely happens, Gruich said.
Tensions were high at the plant for weeks leading up to the strike, Gruich said. On Thursday night, employees who are all members of UAW’s Local 900 got very little work done and were eager to see how labor negotiations would play out, he said.
“We basically just sat the whole night until 10 when Fain decided to strike half of our plant,” he said.
Gruich said, soon after Fain chose their union to strike, managers allowed employees to leave their work stations.
“We were held in the cafeteria until midnight (and) then they allowed us to go out,” he said. “Nobody was allowed to go back on the floor at that point.”
Once outside, the chants began, Gruich said. Younger workers were more energetic and animated while people with more seniority took in the scene in silence, he said.
Fain hasn’t said why UAW leadership chose the Wayne plant as one of the first three. Gruich said he thinks it’s because workers at the Wayne facility also make parts of seven other plants in the Midwest — plants that produce the Ford Escape, F-250, F-350 and dashboards for the F-150. The parts manufacturing side of Wayne is still operating but the union could ask those workers to walk out as well, Gruich said.
“After like a week or two of Ford not negotiating, they’ll end up shutting down the rest of the plant,” he said. “And that will in turn shut down six or seven other plants.”