Determined opposition to 12-hour day at Sterling Heights Assembly as April 5 start date approaches

Opposition is growing in advance of the April 5 start date for the new 12-hour, 7-day schedule for skilled trades at the Stellantis Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) north of Detroit.

Management and the UAW say the 12/7 schedule is allowed under terms of the 2019 national contract agreement as a form of alternative work schedule (AWS). The vaguely worded contract language relating to AWS for skilled trades was never explained to workers before ratification. The UAW has attempted to justify adoption of the 12/7 as an alternative to the contracting out of skilled-trades work.

Workers at SHAP [Credit: FCA media]

A SHAP skilled-trades worker, James, (not his real name) told the World Socialist Web Site Autoworker Newsletter, “The contract language was intentionally vague. And besides that, we never saw it. The highlights were nondescript. There was no explanation, no possible way to understand what could potentially happen with the AWS.

“The other thing is that skilled trades voted it down.” Indeed, despite a decisive 77 percent “no” vote by skilled trades at SHAP the UAW declared the 2019 contract ratified.

On Friday Stellantis announced that it is temporarily closing five North American assembly plants due to a global shortage of semiconductor chips needed for important vehicle components. The closures impact the Belvidere, Illinois, assembly plant, the Windsor Assembly and Brampton plants in Canada and the Warren Truck plant in the north Detroit suburbs. A fifth Stellantis plant in Mexico will also be temporarily idled.

The 7,800 workers at SHAP that build the highly profitable Ram 1500 pickup will be kept on the job, however, and temporary part-time workers from Warren Truck are even being temporarily transferred to SHAP to keep production running. While auto sales have dropped due to the pandemic, inventory of the highly profitable and popular RAM 1500 has been tight. The 12/7 schedule is clearly aimed at ramping up production without hiring additional workers.

James added, “There is a rumor, unconfirmed, that SHAP is 200,000 units behind because of breakdowns over the last month. Now they are supposed to be going into emergency status and putting production on 7-12s for 60 days. That’s the rumor.

“If they do, it coincides with what we have to do; seven-twelves. That way they’ll be able to run nonstop. They are supposed to have maintenance time, but they are not planning for that.”

He explained that under the UAW national contract with the declaration of emergency status, “Production is non-stop for 90 days straight. Therefore when a production worker tries to say this only affects skilled trades, I say ‘that’s not true; it could be even worse for you guys.’”

Another skilled-trades worker told the Autoworker Newsletter, “They are already short of people for the new schedule. They are already short 12 people in my unit.

“Everyone is silent. Management says the schedule is going into effect. They have already published the work schedule based on the team concept and going by seniority. But they are stretched too thin. They don’t have enough people. As it is you get really tired. You have to run around the plant to multiple lines to fix a problem.”

He said the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic made the start of the 12/7 schedule even more unwise. ‘We could be hit by a major wave again,” he said referring to upsurge in COVID cases in Michigan. “The danger is always there [that you will contract the] virus. It is not a good situation to start 12/7 at this time. Instead they are removing restrictions, they are providing cheap masks.”

James agreed, “The pandemic is not over. I have had two of my co-workers out.”

The second worker added, “Besides the long work hours, there is the stress. People are overwhelmed. If they work 12-hour shifts they can’t do anything with the family. But the company doesn’t care as long as the union agrees with them. Supervisors are stressed out too; some have quit. So they are short of management and short of people.”

Angered at the blatant collusion of the UAW with Stellantis management to ram through the highly unpopular 12/7 work schedule, many workers are threatening to withhold payment of union dues as allowed under Michigan law.

“I spoke to 2 guys who said they don’t want to be part of the union. Some have protested by not paying dues, but they make it hard to do that.”

Referring to the 12/7 schedule, James remarked, “Why do we need the UAW? We could have gotten this bad deal on our own.”

A report in the Detroit Free Press earlier this month pointed to the massive opposition among skilled-trades workers. Many had reached out to the corporate news media hoping to publicize their fight against management and the UAW.

Earlier this month the Autoworker Newsletter reported that skilled-trades workers had issued a fact sheet that pointed to the multiple ways the imposition of the 12/7 violated the UAW constitution and contract language protecting workers from just such a behind-the-back maneuver.

Workers were asked to contact the UAW ethics officer, Wilma Liebman, who served as the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama from 2009–11. Workers told the Autoworker Newsletter that when they called the number, they only got a recording. No one ever responded to their complaint.

The UAW has issued no further statements on the 12/7 schedule or the protests by workers. The Free Press reported that when it asked Stellantis management for further comment, Stellantis re-sent an earlier statement which read, “During 2019 bargaining, FCA and the UAW agreed to a series of alternative work schedules for skilled trades to ensure the plants have the appropriate levels of coverage across all production shifts.”

The Sterling Heights Assembly Rank-and-File Safety Committee issued a statement opposing the 12/7 schedule at the plant and calling for the mobilization of autoworkers in opposition to the destruction of the eight-hour day.

“The very concept of such a long day represents a major step backwards. For more than 150 years, the eight-hour day has been a central demand of the organized workers movement, needed to limit the stress and strain on the body and permit time for recreation, family life and mental development.

“By imposing this schedule, the UAW is violating even the language of its own constitution which states that its purpose is “To improve working conditions, create a uniform system of shorter hours, higher wages, health care and pensions; to maintain and protect the interests of workers…”

The second skilled-trades worker said, “It is a battle to educate people. Unions have a culture of anti-socialism; they try to make (socialism) look like a monster. They are against anything that benefits people.

“There are a lot of billionaires now—the middle class is falling into poverty. One day it will reach a point where the bubble bursts—people will get fed up. People will turn to socialism.”

To join the SHAP Rank-and-File Safety Committee, contact autoworkers@wsws.org.