STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. - "Build them where they sell them" was the battle cry from hundreds of autoworkers and their supporters at a rally in front of Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) Sept. 25. The plant, eight miles north of Detroit, is scheduled to close in December 2010 but the union here is aggressively working to reverse that decision.
The plant, which makes the Chrysler Sebring and Avenger mid-sized sedans and the Sebring convertible, is one of eight Chrysler plants that are slated to close.
Since June, Chrysler has been run by Fiat under a U.S. government-aided bankruptcy reorganization. Upsetting many here is that while Chrysler/Fiat received $10 billion in U.S. taxpayer money (and 2.5 billion Canadian tax dollars) all of the plants that are scheduled to close are here in the U.S.
At the rally here, motorists and truckers traveling down Van Dyke Avenue honked, gave thumbs up and shouted encouragement to the assembled crowd.
Participants expressed concern not only about their own personal future but also about the well-being of the communities they live in if this and other plants close. Yolanda Mallett put it bluntly: "We need to keep SHAP open because SHAP feeds this community. I'm a production worker. I'm a worker and we want to work. Give us a product and we can make it."
She continued, "If these jobs are lost, we don't have any income. There is a ripple jobs effect. Our money supports community businesses. If we lose our jobs, we can't support those businesses and they can't support the community by providing jobs."
Bill Parker, president of United Auto Workers Local 1700 at SHAP, said, "We want to make sure the plant stays open and jobs remain in Sterling Heights and this area. It's not just Sterling Heights; it's all the great industrial areas around like Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland and St Louis that are being impacted. We need to keep these jobs here."
That fear of what life will be like without manufacturing jobs was brought up by John Ursul, a production worker since 1994. He wondered "What's an economic recovery going to look like as a service economy?
That's a thought Victoria Reyna found hard to bear. Reyna works in final assembly, doing such things as putting in moldings and checking to see seatbelts are in working order. "We all need these jobs," she said. "It's what we depend on; what we need to survive."
Jobs with Justice coordinator Bill Bryce pointed out that Local 1700 has been a bastion of activist leadership and support for other unions and locals. "They have given generously and freely of time and money," he said. The demise of the local "would be a big blow."
General Baker, a retired UAW veteran who has been a part of many fights to keep plants open and jobs in the Detroit area, said that, at a minimum, "until we get a strong social safety net, these plants must remain open so people can survive." He also hoped the large turnout at the rally would be a spark to ignite a larger, united movement to save manufacturing jobs.
Indeed, the rally heard many declarations of support from other Chrysler and UAW locals. Some came from out of state, such as the greetings brought from Chrysler locals in Kenosha, Wis., and Kokomo, Ind., whose plants are also scheduled to close.
Also pledging assistance were a number of elected officials, and it was announced that on the previous day the Michigan House of Representatives had unanimously passed a resolution calling for keeping the plant open.
During the program, Parker told the crowd that men and women should not lose their jobs because workers elsewhere are paid much less to do the same work. More plant closings will worsen the state budget crisis, he noted. Businesses up and down Van Dyke Avenue and beyond depend on our spending, he said. Chrysler and Fiat must reverse their decision to close SHAP, the union leader declared.