Tonawanda Engine Plant union workers strike

Local President: "We won't talk locally until we get national taken care of"

Mike Baggerman
September 16, 2019 - 9:29 am

UAW Workers strike at the Tonawanda Engine Plant. September 16, 2019 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - The 1,357 union workers at the Tonawanda Engine Plant are among the thousands across the United States who are striking after negotiations between General Motors and the UAW stalled on Sunday night.

Workers left their posts after the two sides failed to reach an agreement at midnight.

"We've got to do this," UAW Local 774 President JR Baker said. "We've got to be out here to show that we're not taking anymore setbacks. We helped them out during the bankruptcy by giving them concessions. Now it's all about fair wages. We want job security. We want affordable health care. We want profit sharing. We've also got temporary workers who have been temps for five to six years. We can no longer work under those circumstances."

MORE: PHOTO GALLERY OF UAW STRIKE IN WESTERN NEW YORK

Those employees picketed with signs that said "UAW ON STRIKE". They walked in circles around the entrances to the plant on Niagara Street, delaying the morning commute for those driving on the roads and for the salaried employees at the plant attempting to turn into work. Tonawanda Police was on scene and there have been no reported issues.

"We won't talk locally until we get national taken care of," Baker said. "We voted 98 percent to strike. When they told us to strike, that's what we did...We're going to hold the line until all of our needs are met."

This is the first nationwide strike since 2007. Baker said all of the union workers will be striking around the clock.

Industry expert Art Wheaton, with Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Buffalo, said this is not an easy one to settle.  "One of the biggest issues is the unallocating of product for the four plants. They're attempting to close four different plants. Another issue is bringing new wages for new hires and temporaries closer to what full time regular employees are making."  He said a temp might make $15/hr, a new hire might make $17/hr and a longtime hire may be making $24 or $25 an hour.  "They can be doing the same work, standing right next to each other," he said.  "Equal pay for equal work has been a long standard for the UAW."

Wheaton sees the strike as a big game of chicken.  "We're waiting to see who's going to flinch."  He does not believe they are close to a deal.

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Further East, strikers were picketing outside of the General Motors plant in Lockport.

According to a source at the demonstration, nobody there was allowed to comment on the situation.

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