Kokomo UAW workers optimistic and anxious as strike begins

KOKOMO, Ind. – Auto workers across the country are actively fighting for higher pay and benefits as nearly 13,000 people across three states walked off the job on Friday.

The United Auto Workers union strike in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri kicked off at midnight Friday. Meanwhile, auto workers in Kokomo are still hard at work, anxiously awaiting the outcome of negotiations and the possibility of a local strike.

“This is our defining moment,” said UAW Local 1166 President David Willis, Sr.

As thousands of Hoosier auto workers watch the strike unfold from a distance, the message still remains the same.

“It’s time to bring the people up, the middle class, the blue-collar worker, the same ones that built this America,” Willis described.

As President of the UAW Local 1166, Willis represents some 1,000 Stellantis employees in Kokomo. He argues his workers, like many across the country, have not reaped the harvest of the auto industry’s growth over the last decade.

“They are making record, record profits,” Willis said. “We’re the ones working. All these people in all these plants all over the United States, we’re the ones working to make these profits.”

As thousands line picket fences in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri, Willis said the same likelihood in Indiana is only a phone call away.

“Nobody wants this strike,” he said. “Nobody from any corporation wants this strike, but we’re willing to do it. We’re willing to go out on strike to get our fair share. It’s time for us to have our moment and at least be able to live comfortably in these same United States we helped build.”

Indiana University business experts say the strike could have some dire consequences on the supply chain, though.

“There won’t be cars showing up at the dealership,” said Carol Rogers, the director of the Indiana Business Research Center in the IU Kelley School of Business. “Those people aren’t going to have work, they’re not going to make their income. It will eventually hit many of us in different ways.”

Rogers said it is hard to predict how long the stalemate could last, but she said the longer it lasts, the more widespread consequences could become.

“Each day is going to be a hit for other manufacturers,” she said.

Rogers said the strike has the potential to have a domino effect.

“People are watching the clock,” she said. “Not just the Big Three automakers or UAW watching the clock, there are a lot of nervous people in manufacturing facilities in Indiana today watching this every hour hoping that it will get resolved.”

And with each day, Willis said he also worries about the local union members he represents.

“What happens when we, if we, get that call,” he asked. “What happens to them when they go out on strike?”

While experts say there is no easy way to predict a timeline, they say it could range anywhere from a few weeks to six months or more.

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