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Autoworkers ‘walking on eggshells’ as they await UAW strike outcome

picketers outside the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant
Workers on the picket line outside the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne Friday morning. (Bridge photo)
  • There are work stoppages at three plants of the legacy Big Three on the first day of a United Auto Workers strike
  • UAW workers at other plants are reporting to work without a contract
  • Some strikers are anxious about how long they can survive on $500 a week strike pay

United Auto Workers workers outside of the first three strike targets are wondering what comes next for them.

Rodney Phillips, 35, is a Roseville resident who’s worked at the Sterling Heights Assembly as a production operator since 2018. Before that, he worked at the plant for Caravan Facilities Management, a cleaning company. He’s part of UAW Local 17, and had membership in the union in both jobs.

Phillips works second shift and was preparing to go in at 2 p.m. Friday when he talked with Bridge. He’s one of thousands of workers who are clocking in without a contract.


“That’s the scary part, we’ve never been in this situation so we don’t know how bad it can get as far as working without a contract,” Phillips said. “We just know we have to go do the job to perfection. It is kind of scary. Everyone is walking on eggshells.”


Phillips is optimistic that the strike will create better working conditions. Workers are checking UAW websites and tuning in to union president Shawn Fain’s live broadcasts to stay up to date on what plants are next to strike.

“I believe this is going to be one of the best contracts in the last 20 years,” he said.

But he’s also concerned about being able to survive a prolonged work stoppage on $500 per week from the union’s strike fund. He would start struggling to pay bills after a “couple of weeks.” He has a 6-year-old son who “eats like a grown man.”

On strike pay: “If we’re being real, that’s not going to cut it for anybody that has their own place and children. That’s definitely going to affect some people."


“I want to work, I don’t want to strike and that’s the main thing,” he said. “Nobody in the auto industry wants to strike, but we’re going to strike to make a statement.”

Phillips said he works alongside temporary part-time employees who have been at the plant longer than him. Shifting them to full-time is important, he said, because temporary workers don’t receive bonuses, pay raises or other benefits enjoyed by full-time workers.

“They’re in there doing the same work as us,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he started at $15.75 an hour but now makes $31 per hour. Inflation has cut into his earnings, Phillips said, with workers living check-to-check and cutting back on spending. Temporary employees make $19, he said.

“Do I feel like it's enough with the work we do? When Chrysler became Stellantis one of their objectives was to cut jobs, and they cut jobs tremendously at my location,” Phillips said. “These jobs have become way harder, we’re working harder for less money.”


Another important objective is eliminating the tier structure. He’s less optimistic that will happen. Tier 2 workers don’t get a pension when they retire.

Overall, Philips said he believes the union is strong and the union’s strategy is sound. The Big Three are facing major pressure with simultaneous strikes affecting some of the most profitable plants.

“My plant in Sterling Heights, if we go down, it’ll affect the 1500 RAM — that’s one of the most profitable vehicles over the last five years, voted best selling truck over the last five years,” he said. “That’s going to be a big hit.”

Despite the present uncertainty, Phillips believes the auto industry is a good place to work.

“It’s about how you approach it,” he said. “If you’re a hard worker then you have nothing to worry about.”

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