June 20, 2024

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UAW strike important for Black workers carrying family legacies

2 min read

As Britney Johnson paced the picket line outside Ford’s Wayne Assembly plant, she wasn’t just carrying a sign demanding higher pay and other changes.

She also carried a legacy of car factory jobs and union wages that allowed generations of her family to enjoy middle-class lifestyles and that for years had been unattainable for many Black Americans.

Johnson’s great-grandfather, grandfather and mother all worked on assembly lines for one or more of Detroit’s automakers, as did some of her uncles.

“We told her she’s representing our family,” Johnson’s mother, Tracy Brooks, jokes.

It seems the efforts of Johnson and her co-workers were starting to pay off. All striking Ford workers were called Wednesday by the United Auto Workers to return to their jobs after the union said it reached a tentative contract agreement with Ford that would give them a 25% general wage increase, plus cost of living raises that will put the pay increase over 30%, to above $40 per hour for top-scale assembly plant workers by the end of the contract. Union members still must approve the deal.

Ford’s deal was followed Saturday by a similar one with Stellantis and could prompt an agreement with General Motors that would end the nearly 6-week-old strikes that at the peak saw about 46,000 workers walk off their jobs and thousands more laid off.

Union wages, and the battles to keep them, have elevated the fortunes of countless Black families, Brooks said.

Brooks’ grandfather, Bobbie Allen Sr., left Texas in the early to mid-1900s and found work at Ford Motor Co. Despite having only an eighth grade education, Allen was able to build homes, buy 40 acres of land in rural southeastern Michigan, purchase luxury cars and take his family on vacations.

“It meant a lot, being in the union,” Brooks said. “Those were the good jobs that were available for Blacks. They knew they could go in there and work hard, make money and obtain things like homes…

Corey Williams, Aisha I. Jefferson, The Associated Press

2023-10-30 07:11:42

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