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Local UAW leader: Rochester GM workers could be asked to walk out 'at any minute'

The General Motors plant on Lexington Ave. in Rochester.
Max Schulte
file photo/WXXI News
The General Motors plant on Lexington Ave. in Rochester.

A historic strike at the Detroit Three automakers is now underway.

For the first time ever, the United Auto Workers union is striking against all Big Three automakers at once, after itfailed to clinch a deal on a new contract by the 11:59 p.m. deadline on Thursday.

But the strike won't mean all of the nearly 150,000 union members who work at the three automakers will walk off their jobs en masse.

Instead, workers at three Midwest auto plants -- a General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, Missouri, a Stellantis assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, and part of a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich. -- were the first to walk off the job under UAW president Shawn Fain's "stand up strike" strategy.

There are about 700 members of the UAW employed at the Rochester GM plant on Lexington Avenue.

The President of UAW local 1097 in Rochester, Dan Maloney, said his members are ready for an order from the leadership of the union to walk off the job at any time.

“This is the total discretion of the UAW president and the negotiation team up in Detroit, they could ask any one of the remaining big three auto plants, local unions to walk out at any minute, any hour any day,” said Maloney.

Maloney said his members are not particularly bothered by the uncertainty of not knowing exactly when they might be called to strike. He said the rank and file just feel they have no other choice.

“Our members have given up pay, benefits, vacation, pensions. They've been backed into a corner, they are just, you know, fired up, membership ready to fight will take on this challenge,” said Maloney. “There's really not a lot left to lose.”

During the 2008 financial crisis, the UAW made major concessions to help auto companies get back on their feet.

The UAW President, Shawn Fain, has not ruled out eventually having all union workers at the Big Three automakers walk off the job at once.

Locally, Maloney is hoping that possibility will put pressure on the automakers to settle this strike.

“So there’s 150,000 auto workers, multiply that by seven or eight, (and) almost a million people would be out of work in the US economy all at once. That's something nobody wants. Nobody wishes. But it's our only leverage to fight against corporate greed and Wall Street excesses,” Maloney added.

For right now, local UAW GM workers are on the job, and Maloney said they’ve been busy making up signs for when and if they do have to walk off the job, getting their tents and burn barrels ready, and stocking up water and coffee.

All three automakers have budged on their initial wage proposals, from opening bids of 9 or 10% increases to as high as 20% in the most recent offers. The union argues those offers don't sufficiently account for years of stagnant wages.

But the companies say they've made genuine attempts to reach agreements.

This story includes reporting by NPR.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.