Don Kemp, 52 of Flint, works at GM Truck in Flint and is one of many participating in the protest Sunday. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
Protesters voiced a wide range of frustrations in downtown Detroit on Sunday, ahead of this week’s start of the 2014 North American International Auto Show.
A crowd of over 30 people holding placards and chanting slogans paraded across the street from Cobo Center, where the eyes of the auto world will be fixed for the next two weeks. The good feelings generated by the auto industry’s rebound in recent years haven’t been shared with everyone, according to many of those on hand Sunday.
“They cheated their workers,” said 54-year-old Detroiter Tom Stephenson, speaking about the Big Three automakers. “They accepted bailouts from the taxpayers even though they were supposedly too big to fail. So yeah, now they’re operating on a profit. For the workers, it has meant four-tier contracts, loss of health care, loss of benefits, loss of rights on the job.
“It’s a nightmare.”
Many of those participating in the protest Sunday were linked with Autoworker Caravan, a group formed to back union workers in the industry. Those workers, they said, have not enjoyed the spoils of the economic turnaround that their employers have.
Signs in the crowd included: “No more two-tier or three-tier wages, we are all equals,” “Whose recovery is it?” and “Divided we beg, united we demand.”
UAW Chrysler retiree Bob McReavy, 72, drove in from his home in Ortonville on Sunday to participate in the protest. He spoke angrily about the $1.8 billion in tax breaks afforded to businesses by Gov. Rick Snyder, while homeowners like himself were penalized by reductions in the Homestead property tax credit.
Those moves do nothing but feed the perception that the deck is stacked in favor of corporate interests and against the little guy, he said. And nowhere does that seem more prevalent than in the auto industry.
“I‘m fed up with the way we’re being treated — all of us, everybody,” McReavy said. “(Automakers are) making billions and we’ve got third-tier wages now — people working for $8 an hour. ... And they’re back to paying their CEOs $20 million a year.”