Autoworker in Louisville was ready to strike but Kentucky didn’t get the call

UAW president says union has made progress with Ford on cost of living adjustments, other demands

By: - September 22, 2023 3:36 pm
Auto workers wearing red UAW shirts raise their fists as the union's regional president speaks.

Autoworkers raise their fists as UAW Region 8 President Tim Smith speaks at a rally in Louisville, Sept. 21, 2023. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

LOUISVILLE — Richard Jones remembers when the United Auto Workers made concessions to Ford in 2008 as the automaker avoided a government bailout that General Motors and Chrysler, now Stellantis, took.

Ford workers did without raises and cost of living adjustments, he said, to keep Ford in business during the Great Recession. 

“All this time doing everything we can to keep Ford afloat, without Ford taking the buyout, without Ford taking the tax dollars,” Jones said. “That was promised back to us. And that was something that was never returned. They returned to profitability — record profitability — and we’re just left behind.” 

Jones has worked as one of nearly 9,000 employees at Louisville’s Kentucky Truck Plant since 1997. His salary has helped put four children through college and provided a modest living for his family. But those concessions given up 15 years ago have made it difficult to outpace the economic headwinds of inflation, housing prices and more. 

In what UAW leadership says is an effort to get back what was conceded during the Great Recession, the union has strategically called on specific manufacturing plants and auto suppliers to go on strike while union members at other plants keep working. The point of selective strikes is to try to keep auto manufacturers guessing where work stoppages might happen. 

Auto workers wearing red shirts blow whistles and wave signs at a rally in Louisville.
Autoworkers in Louisville blow whistles at a rally as cars honk their horns in support. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer).

Jones was ready to strike “at a moment’s notice” along with hundreds of other workers Thursday evening outside a local UAW union hall in Louisville at a rally with union leadership. Yet on Friday, the UAW didn’t call any of Kentucky’s three auto manufacturing plants owned by the Big Three manufacturers — Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant and Louisville Assembly Plant and GM’s Bowling Green Assembly Plant — into the strike. Instead, 38 GM and Stellantis parts distribution centers spread across 20 states are walking off the job. 

UAW President Shawn Fain said Friday, that while the union has made progress with Ford on aspects of a new contract, which includes reimplementing cost of living adjustments that were suspended during the Great Recession, little progress has been made in negotiations with GM and Stellantis. 

The UAW has asked automakers for an approximate 40% wage increase for its workers in light of automaker executives’ rising pay, reinstating cost-of-living adjustments, ending a tiered wage system and providing job security for workers as manufacturing transitions to electric vehicles.

The CEO of GM said earlier this month the company put forth a “historic offer” to the union, and Ford’s CEO has said the union’s wage demands wouldn’t be sustainable for the company.

Tim Morris wears an orange shirt as he speaks before the crowd of UAW members.
Tim Morris with the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council speaks at a Thursday rally for UAW members. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)

Kentucky has more than 550 automotive-related companies that employ more than 103,000 people, according to the state Cabinet for Economic Development,. Ford employs more than 12,000 workers at its two Louisville-based plants, while GM employs more than 800 at its Bowling Green plant where Corvettes are produced. Toyota also has a major manufacturing plant in Georgetown. 

Jones in a text message Friday said he was happy to see Ford “stepping up” and hopes that GM and Stellantis “take notice.” 

As for the automakers’ ongoing transition to EV production, Jones believes those new jobs should and can still be union jobs into the future. Jones said EVs still need chassis, battery motors and more. 

Ford is building a nearly $6 billion battery plant in Hardin County, BlueOval SK Battery Park, and started hiring this summer some of its roughly 5,000 workers. Toyota is also transitioning its Georgetown plant to building EVs.

“Your car still has to have steering,” Jones said Thursday evening. “Those battery plants — everything — they should make what we make. We should be union. We should all be standing together in solidarity and make a difference.”

A yellow sign bearing the logo for Louisville's local UAW union.
Auto workers rallied at a local union hall in Louisville. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Liam Niemeyer)


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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.