“This is a day to honor Coby”

Family of Jacoby Hennings to celebrate young autoworker’s life

The family of Jacoby Hennings is holding a memorial picnic this Sunday to celebrate the life of the young autoworker who died at Ford’s Woodhaven Stamping Plant, just outside of Detroit, on October 20, 2017. Large numbers of family members, friends and co-workers are expected to attend the “Coby Day” event, which will be held on Sunday, July 8, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., at Kennedy Park in the Detroit suburb of Eastpointe, Michigan.

“I wish I didn’t have to organize an event like this,” Shemeeka Hennings, Jacoby’s mother, a long-time Chrysler worker, told the World Socialist Web Site. “My son should still be here. We’ll never recover from this loss. But we are not the only ones who loved Coby, a lot of other people did too. This is a day we set aside to remember and honor Coby. We welcome everyone to join us,” Shemeeka said.

The July 8 memorial picnic, Shemeeka continued, would be “a day of fun for everybody, family and kids, with games and slides. Coby loved fireworks. There will be a microphone, and people will be able to speak. It will be free, because if we were asking for anything it wouldn’t be a Coby Day. Coby was a giving person and he would walk right up and give you anything if you needed it.”

More than eight months since the death of the Hennings, a 21-year-old temporary part-time worker (TPT), the full circumstances surrounding the incident are still not known. Officials from the United Auto Workers, Ford and the Woodhaven police say the young man took his life after a “labor dispute” in a UAW office in the Ford plant. While the police quickly closed their investigation, the family and the public at large have never been told what happened in the hour-long meeting with UAW officials or the nature of Hennings’s grievances and concerns.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Shemeeka said. “My son told me he thought they were out to get him. He had stopped the production line because he thought it was unsafe. After that, he said, the company got rid of all the TPTs but three of them. Coby asked me, ‘Why would they keep me after I stopped the line?’ We want to know what happened.”

The sudden death of this young worker evoked concern and broad sympathy from autoworkers in the Detroit area who are well aware of the abuse TPTs face inside the plants. Although they pay dues to the UAW, the low-paid TPTs have no contractual rights and can be fired for the slightest infraction. Only hours before his death at the Ford Woodhaven plant, Coby completed a shift at Fiat Chrysler’s Warren Truck plant, 37 miles away, where he held a second TPT job.

The October 28 funeral service for Coby on the east side of Detroit was attended by hundreds of workers, family and friends, and a report of the service, posted by the WSWS, was shared thousands of times by autoworkers on social media. The co-workers of Jacoby’s parents raised thousands of dollars at plant gate collections at Fiat Chrysler’s Warren Stamping Plant, where Shemeeka works, and at the Chrysler Mopar facility, where Coby’s father, Bernard Jr., works.

A December 27 event to celebrate what would have been Jacoby’s 22nd birthday was well attended, filling the Hennings home to capacity. At that event, family and friends planned out a series of “Coby Days” to honor the young worker.

The outpouring sympathy and solidarity by autoworkers in the Detroit area stands in sharp contrast to the response of the news media and the UAW, which have tried to bury the story and prevent any examination of the broader causes of this young worker’s death. Family, friends and co-workers, however, are determined to keep Coby’s memory alive and uncover the truth.