‘We’re at work more than we’re at home,’ Michigan Ford workers say

By Tony Lane
October 2, 2023
picketing Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. “I’m so proud of my union for standing up,” said Keegan Kellums, 24, on strike at Ford.
UAW Local 900Picketing Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan. “I’m so proud of my union for standing up,” said Keegan Kellums, 24, on strike at Ford.

WAYNE, Mich. — “There has been a huge hiring at this plant since 2020 — 1,500 to 1,700 workers, all young people starting out at $16.65 an hour. Many of them with families, and they can’t afford much,” Steve Kovich, picket captain and member of United Auto Workers Local 900, told Militant  worker-correspondents Tony Lane and Cherise Weston at the Ford assembly plant here Sept. 18. “There are around 3,000 workers in the plant.”

“I’ve been here for two years and I’m making $19.40 an hour,” DJ Jenkins told us. “We got the call Thursday night we were going out. I’m glad we can represent our union brothers and sisters.

“People used to kill for these jobs. Not anymore,” he said. “We’re at work more than we’re at home.”

His sister, Maddie, also works in the plant, along with another brother and a cousin. “Of course, getting rid of the two-tier wages is important,” she said. “But all the union demands are important. We need better hours. Overtime should be voluntary. Inflation is wild. You can make more working at Target today than the starting pay at Ford. And we need to get the COLA back.

“We’re fighting for our rights here. I realize now how important the union is. And the support we’ve received is great,” she added.

DJ Jenkins said he attaches soft top brackets and has other tasks as cars go by, one a minute. “There’s time-study people who watch the line, and if you don’t look busy, they add another job.”

We discussed some of the other labor battles going on, and other issues affecting working people around the world. I introduced them to my campaign as Socialist Workers Party candidate for county executive in Allegheny County in Pittsburgh. I showed them a Militant  article about the protests in Iran. Maddie Jenkins said she was taking a class at Schoolcraft College where they had discussed the protests there for women’s rights.

We also met Holly and Chris Jones, who were driving back to Chicago from vacation and stopped by the picket line to share solidarity. Chris is a member of UAW Local 588 at the Chicago Ford Stamping Plant. Holly is a member of the International Association of Machinists at United Airlines.

“I want to make sure we get rid of the two-tier wages. The new hires need to get a fair deal,” Chris Jones said. “There are workers working side by side, one making $8 an hour less than the other.”