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700 workers on strike at Lear Corporation, UAW fighting to drop two-tier wage system

By J Burger

‘One Lear, one tier’

Lorenzo Jones, spokesperson for UAW

Hammond, IN – At 6:00 am, Sept. 13, the factory that makes seats for Ford Motor Company went on strike. Contract talks broke off Sept. 12 and United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2335 hit the picket lines.

The parts supplied by this plant are considered critical to the safety of the vehicles. In manufacturing autos, just-in-time production means that by 10:00 a.m. the main Ford assembly plant in Chicago had been idled. Three other parts plant in the region were idled as the day went along, allowing workers from those plants to join the picket lines in Hammond.

Lorenzo Jones, a spokesperson for UAW said, “This morning we walked out on strike. The company locked the gates; there is no production happening today.” When asked if he thought the company would try to open the plant, he said he didn’t think they could.

“This is a fight for equality of the workers in this plant,” Jones said. “Lear Corporation has a slogan, ‘One Lear.’ We say, ‘One Lear, one tier.’” This slogan sums up the union’s fight in bargaining to get rid of the two-tier wage structure. “We have people working elbow to elbow, with some making $6 to $9 an hour less than the person working next to them doing the same job. We are united in the plant to say no to the two-tier system,” Jones added.

What’s the context for this fight? Jones explained: “We had mostly only one shift four years ago, now we have three shifts running night and day.” With the auto industry, as well as Lear Corporation, rebounding after the economic crash in 2008, workers at this plant are demanding to share in the wealth created by them. Jones continued, “We are not going to stand for this corporate greed. We have built this company up, we are not going to stand for the take backs management wants. We are saying no to many of their proposed takeaways, including double time pay for work on Sunday, a six-year contract and small raises to the second tier and nothing to the first tier. We are fighting to bring everyone up to the first tier.”

The union spokesperson said that the second tier workers are hired out at $11 per hour and cap out at $16 per hour. Many of those interviewed on the picket lines today are disgusted with management’s attempt to take away previous gains.

One employee who has worked at the plant for 19 years said, “I was here and helped build this company from the ground up. When the economy crashed, the company came to us and asked for the two-tier wage system. We agreed to it, knowing we would have to fight to end it in the future. Well, this is the time to fight the two tier. One Lear, one tier,” using the slogan many were chanting on the picket lines. “Management wants to have us agree to go from three days pay for bereavement [leave for family members who have died] to one day paid. That shows how they disrespect us and our families,” she concluded.

Throughout the day, the picketers received many honks in support from passing motorists. Workers and leaders with signs from other UAW locals were on the picket lines. Workers at Tower Automotive Inc, (which makes steel frames and undercarriages for Ford, as well as the ZF company, which makes axles and struts) and Dakota company (manufactures of headliners for vehicles) were all idled today because of the strike at Lear. They are represented by UAW Local 3112. A Tower worker on the picket line said, “We are here in solidarity with their fight to dump the two-tier wage structure”.

Rank-and-file workers from the Chicago-based Torrence Ford assembly plant were out on the picket lines as well. Workers there said that they had run out of parts for assembly by 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning. The seats for the vehicle are considered part of the “Delta” operation. The seats are a critical safety component for the vehicle; without them, production comes to a halt.

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