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The Historic UAW Strike in Toledo: Jeep Workers Take a Stand
In the town where Jeep was born and played a crucial role in winning World War II, a historic event is unfolding. The UAW’s simultaneous strike against all three of the Detroit automakers is not only unprecedented, but it holds even greater significance for the 5,800 workers who walked off their jobs at midnight on Friday.
This strike marks the first time in over a century that the men and women building Jeeps in Toledo have participated in a national contract strike. While UAW members in Toledo have gone on strike before, this is the first time they have done so as part of a nationwide labor dispute.
In the past, members of UAW Local 12, one of the largest UAW locals in the country, have called job actions. However, Jeep, the largest unit under Local 12, has never been struck by the union, despite multiple changes in ownership and assembly plants over the years.
The decision to choose Toledo Jeep Assembly as one of the locations for the “stand-up strike” was strategic, according to UAW President Shawn Fain. The union has a playbook and a mapped-out strategy to ensure the companies acknowledge and address the needs of their workers.
The Historical Context of Jeep and Labor Relations in Toledo
The story of how Toledo’s Jeep workers have managed to avoid strikes until now is equally intriguing. Local 12 was established in 1933, with workers from Willys-Overland, a struggling automaker during the Great Depression. The development of the Willys MB, the iconic World War II Jeep, changed the fortunes of the company and the city of Toledo.
Due to the war effort, disruptive strikes were avoided until after the hostilities had ended. However, the UAW’s strategy of pattern bargaining with automakers focused on the larger Detroit manufacturers, leaving Toledo’s Jeep plant largely unaffected.
Throughout the years, Jeep changed hands several times, but it wasn’t until Chrysler Corp. purchased the plant in 1987 that it became part of the “Big Three” automakers. The UAW’s strong presence in Toledo, along with its participation in the local Labor Management Citizens Committee, helped maintain labor peace and prevented major strikes.
Even under Chrysler’s ownership, Jeep workers in Toledo had a separate contract until 2015, when they were finally integrated into the national agreement. Previous opportunities for strikes were strategically approached by UAW leadership, resulting in different strategies being employed.
For the workers in Toledo, this historic strike is a first-time experience. Margaret Drummer, a Jeep worker with 30 years of experience, expressed her surprise and determination as she joined her fellow workers on the picket line.
As negotiations between the UAW and the Detroit automakers continue, the outcome of this strike will have far-reaching implications for the future of labor relations in the auto industry.
You may email Larry P. Vellequette at [email protected]. He was a reporter in Toledo for 25 years before joining Automotive News. Staff Reporter Michael D. Martinez contributed to this article.