Business & Economy

Striking autoworkers draw support from other unions in Plymouth

A person talks to a crowd
Striking 25-year UAW member David Kirby talks to co-workers and representatives of other unions on the picket line outside the Stellantis distribution center in Plymouth on Tuesday morning.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

David Kirby, who has been working for auto maker Stellantis and its predecessors for 25 years, called out to his co-workers and others on the picket line in Plymouth on Tuesday morning:

“When I say union, you say power. Union! Power! Union! Power!”

Kirby, of Big Lake, Minn., was joined by his son, another striking auto worker, and about 100 other people — not just United Auto Workers members but also leaders and members from other unions in Minnesota.

As local picketing entered its fifth day on Tuesday — part of a now nearly two-week-old national UAW strike against the Big Three automakers — the unions held a solidarity rally outside the Stellantis parts distribution center along Highway 55.

It came as President Joe Biden visited a picket line of striking auto workers in Michigan.

During the pandemic, Kirby said, there’s been a “paradigm shift. And Stellantis was able to make lots of money, huge margins — and the workers are left with nothing.”

A person took a sign
Wayne Gregory, a retired UAW member from Eagan, takes a sign from striking Stellantis worker Patty Ruedebusch at the Stellantis distribution center in Plymouth on Tuesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

And as important as the money is, workers also said a sense of equity and legacy are equally strong for them and their colleagues on the picket line. Patty Ruedebusch of Coon Rapids, Minn., has worked at Stellantis for almost 28 years and said a lower wage tier for newer workers, and a succession of temporary employees in her warehouse, has to end.

“It’s not about us people who are ready to retire. It’s about the young kids getting their fair share. That's what this is,” she said. “We need the young kids to be brought up, and the temps — they just want to keep hiring temps so they don't have to pay ‘em anything. It's not right.”

Those are among the many issues at the bargaining table in the ongoing strike which also includes another Twin Cities-area facility: a GM parts distribution center in Hudson, Wis.

Tuesday’s picketing in Plymouth also featured support from other unions, including United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters, United Steelworkers, AFSCME and SEIU, among others.

People walks the picket line
Education Minnesota President Denise Sprecht walks the picket line with striking UAW workers outside the Stellantis distribution center in Plymouth on Tuesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Denise Specht is head of Education Minnesota, the state's largest labor union, and joined the strikers 18 months after one of her union's largest locals went on strike against Minneapolis Public Schools. She said she thinks there are many signs that organized labor is regaining traction.

“Lots of unions showed up in Minneapolis,” she said. “And not just unions, but community members, allies, partners — and those numbers just keep growing.”

Union membership, however, does not. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported just 10.1 percent of U.S. workers were unionized in 2022, the lowest point since the agency started tracking in 1983, and now about half of what it was 40 years ago. Just 6 percent of private-sector employees, like autoworkers, are unionized.

But leaders of organized labor say strikes like the UAW’s are showing the muscle that collective bargaining can still flex, and drawing unprecedented support — including Biden’s visit.

A person holds a sign
Lorrie Perrault of Annandale walks the UAW picket line outside a Stellantis parts distribution facility in Plymouth on Tuesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Bernie Burnham has been head of the Minnesota AFL-CIO since 2022, and also joined the picket line in Plymouth on Tuesday morning. Biden’s visit, Burnham said, shows workers “that the president stands with them and that he is committed to making sure they are able to have a sustainable, respectful, dignified life.”

Burnham said she was dubious of plans by the GOP presidential frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, to visit autoworkers on Wedsnesday. Trump has scheduled an appearance at Drake Enterprises, a non-union auto parts manufacturer in a Detroit suburb.

Picketers out in front of the Stellantis warehouse in Plymouth on Tuesday said they appreciate national attention on the work stoppage. Auto workers’ strikes in the U.S. have stretched out for as long as 16 weeks in the past, and workers on the picket line, like David Kirby, said they hope that support for their cause will shorten the walkout.

“I support anybody who supports us,” he said.