Stellantis workers strike at Kokomo casting plant over health and safety concerns

Workers at the Stellantis casting plant in Kokomo, Indiana, went on strike Saturday morning over contract issues. According to a brief announcement posted on the main United Auto Workers website, UAW Local 1166 is asking “management to repair, replace and maintain HVAC systems (which the company has promised to do years ago), address other health and safety issues, provide clean uniforms as it does for workers in other factories, and set some work rules.

Kokomo casting plant workers (Source: FCA Media)

The 1,000 hourly workers at the Kokomo Casting Plant (KCP) produce parts for transmissions and other critical components for Stellantis vehicles. A prolonged strike at the factory, according to Stellantis the “largest die-casting plant in the world”, would impact Stellantis operations in the United States and internationally within days.

The UAW, however, has no intention of waging such a fight and plans to end the strike as soon as possible. The walkout is being carefully organized by the international and local UAW to dispel growing anger over intolerable working conditions at Kokomo and other factories.

Widely despised by workers, the UAW International points to the strike as proof of its willingness to defend workers. “UAW members have made profits at Stellantis, but the company is indifferent to the working conditions that members of Local 1166 must endure.” Local 1166 is also the local of Shawn Fain, a longtime UAW international representative who is billed as the official “opposition” to UAW President Ray Curry.

In fact, Curry and Fain are just as indifferent to the conditions of rank-and-file autoworkers, having negotiated years of dealership contracts, which abolished the eight-hour day, halved wages for new hires and sanctioned the Horrible Exploitation of Temporary Workers. workers.

By calling the strike this weekend, when no production was scheduled, the UAW ensured that there would be no immediate impact on Stellantis operations. At the same time, the UAW told other Stellantis workers in the Kokomo area do not support Kokomo Casting workers by joining their picket lines. Union officials at the much larger UAW Local 685 say their nearly 7,000 members couldn’t join the picket line because they work for the same company!

UAW officials also called on Kokomo Casting workers not to interfere with the operation of the plant in any way, including blocking the entry of contractors.

As in all other factories, there are many reasons why workers go on strike. Facebook posts from Stellantis workers in the Kokomo area highlight the terrible conditions at Kokomo Casting, especially the abuse of temporary workers. At the same time, workers expressed deep distrust of Curry, Fain and other UAW leaders.

A worker wrote: “I worked as a TPT (temporary part time) for 10 years and always paid dues, never received anything, did not even receive the bonus or nothing the full-time employee got.

“Anyway I got cancer and I had to quit and while I was going through my chemo and stuff they tried to hire me full time and I couldn’t take it because I was sick. It was 2011. So that hasn’t changed. If I had been full time or had some benefits, I might still have my job.

Another posted: “Some people are going through absolute hell keeping this job up 10-12 hours a day forced to work midnight forced to work saturdays. This environment can create a myriad of health issues and God only knows the carcinogenic material that sticks to their clothes and inhales that could eventually cause cancer.

In 2018, a worker was horribly injured at KCP after a die fell on him. In previous years, the plant had received numerous citations from Indiana state safety officials for unsafe conditions at the plant. However, the UAW has refused to release any information about the circumstances surrounding the injury of worker Eric Parsons and has taken no action to demand improved safety at the plant.

A KCP worker wrote to World Socialist Web Site Autoworkers Bulletin at the time, “working on the dies in the machines [the] casting plant, there are lockout procedures you must follow for your safety. Also in mobile dies there are safety rules to follow. If any of these are altered, they could or will kill you. I saw two operators killed in machines while I was working there.

In 2018, workers at neighboring Stellantis Kokomo transmission plants voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike over approximately 200 unresolved grievances, including over health and safety issues and the abuse of temporary workers, but the vote was ignored by UAW International and Local 685 officials.

Will Lehman, Pennsylvania Mack Trucks worker and Socialist candidate for UAW President, said, “I fully support Kokomo Casting workers and the fight for every worker to have a safe workplace. But workers have learned from experience that the UAW will never wage a serious fight against the corporations.

“This is demonstrated by the fact that the strike is taking place on a weekend when no production is scheduled. UAW officials have ordered thousands of members at nearly all Stellantis factories off the picket line.

“The UAW apparatus knows that the pressure is mounting and that it needs to conduct the occasional act of opposition to let the steam out. In the past, the UAW has called one- or two-day “Hollywood Strikes” , which had no business impact.

“When workers force the UAW to call strikes, union officials seek not to win them, but to wear down the workers. More than four months ago, 1,000 CNH workers in Wisconsin and Iowa went on strike for substantial raises and protection from cost of living and ending levels. The UAW has isolated its strike, imposed a news blackout and is forcing CNH workers and their families to survive on $400 a week in strike pay.

“The purpose of a strike is to make businesses suffer. For this, we must unite all workers – teachers, railway workers, nurses, everyone – together. Everywhere the workers are ready to fight. But we need organization and direction. This is why my campaign supports the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC).

The WSWS Autoworker Newsletter encourages Kokomo Stellantis workers to sign up for a live chat this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. EST with Will Lehman, a Mack Trucks worker running for UAW President, who will address these issues. Lehman has made central to his campaign the need for autoworkers to organize rank-and-file committees independent of the UAW bureaucracy to oversee working conditions.

The WSWS Autoworker newsletter encourages workers in the Stellantis Kokomo area to contact us for information about conditions at your plant.