WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — While encouraging news about the status of negotiations between the United Auto Workers and General Motors makes headlines, those on the picket lines are doing what they have been doing for the fifth week straight.
News that GM CEO Mary Barra was getting involved in the talks spurred speculation Tuesday that an agreement was coming near.
“I’m encouraged by that,” Tommy Force, an employee at the GM Wyoming plant and a health and safety representative for the UAW, told News 8.
GM workers at the Wyoming facility, near Burton Street and Burlingame Avenue, are among the nearly 50,000 employees who walked off the job on Sept. 15 and went on strike. Workers are demanding a bigger share of GM’s profits, job security and a clearer path to permanent employment for temporary workers among other things.
GM says the company is under pressure to cut labor costs and reports its employees are the highest paid among the big three domestic automakers.
Workers on the picket lines who declined to be interviewed said their optimism comes with caution. They say they’ve heard rumblings before that talks were progressing, only to later hear news that the sides had reached a stalemate.
Force said employees were fatigued by the strike, but willing to continue if need be to reach a better deal for union workers.
“If this has to go on another month, we’ll be here and we’ll be fighting,” Force said.
Part of Force’s confidence comes from the support union members have received from the community.
Inside the UAW hall located down the street from the Wyoming plant, workers on strike can find a makeshift food pantry and donated goods to help them meet their basic needs.
In one room, there is baby food, diapers and personal items. In another there is canned goods, pasta and other nonperishable foods. In addition to the donated goods, workers can find a hot meal at the union hall prepared by volunteers or donated from a local business.
Workers can also find the helping hand of people like Jim and Jenny Cronover, retired GM employees volunteering their time.
“They’re very glad to see us. They need it,” Jenny Cronover told News 8. “I know they need it because they’ve been down here for a long time.”
“It’s my turn and Jenny’s and all the retirees to give something back,” Jim Cronover said.
On Tuesday, the Cronovers prepared chili to serve along with fixings and homemade bread.
“When you have kids at home, there’s no milk in the refrigerator and you’ve got a chance of getting evicted — it’s not very nice,” Cronover said about the conditions workers on strike face.
Jim Cronover knows the ropes. He’s been in the shoes the workers are in now, having been on strike during his decades long career with GM. He said the times were difficult but worth it to improve conditions for workers.
Force said union members have been overwhelmed with the support from volunteers and those who brought donations. Large sheets of paper hang in the union hall with the names of individuals and companies that have donated. There are more than 100 names listed.
“I’m deeply touched by this community,” Force said. “I can’t thank the people in this area enough.”
The Cronovers say they’ll be there to support the union workers for the duration of the strike because retirees supported their plight years ago. But they too are growing weary and hopeful that the strike is coming to an end with a better deal for union workers.
“It’s been hectic,” Jim Cronover said. “I’ll be glad when it’s over with. I’m getting too old for this.”