Businesses have UAW strikers' backs, and their bellies
Spend 20 years making Coneys and you become pretty handy with condiments. Maurice Cunningham assembled two dozen of them Thursday morning, and atop the chili, in mustard, he wrote "UAW."
Cunningham, 40, is a manager at the National Coney Island across from the GM Tech Center in Warren. Many of the strikers who've been on picket duty since Sept. 16 are his loyal customers.
"There's a lot of people we haven't seen in awhile," he said. "We want to let them know we care about the situation, and remind them to come on over and have lunch with us still."
So he dispatched a few waitresses to entry gates with breakfast for the out-of-work strikers, and he offers a reminder to UAW members: at National, strike or no strike, show a badge and you get 10% off.
Amid the first major GM walkout since 1998, others are also offering a hand to the people carrying signs.
Assistance for striking workers has come locally in ways as large as a U-Haul and as small as a box of doughnuts, and from both businesses and individuals — including salaried workers in at least one of the facilities being picketed.
Flash a UAW badge at an Emagine Entertainment theater and a movie ticket costs $5, rather than the typical $9 or $10. At Olga's Kitchen restaurants, excepting the one at MGM Grand Detroit, the "Strike Relief" program has been extended through Oct. 22: $5 off any table's order of $20 or more.
Fewer than 40 diners had taken advantage of the offer through midweek, a spokeswoman said, but on the picket line, the sentiment is as important as the sandwich.
"They're saying, 'We feel for you guys out here,'" said Leroy Banner, 73, of Warren, an Aramark employee carrying a picket sign outside Gate 9 at the Tech Center. "That's a good feeling."
A good feeding took place Wednesday at Odette & Corne Chiropractic in Brownstown Township, where photos of dozens of sacks and cases of pet food popped up on Facebook around 7 a.m.
"If you are a GM UAW employee on strike and you could use help with pet food, we have you covered!" the post said. "We have dog and cat food, canned and dry, and some grain free too!"
By 2 p.m., it was all gone — but more was already on order.
The most substantial known order of people food was a 30,000-pound delivery from workers at FCA's Marysville axle plant to UAW Local 22 in Detroit, packed into "the largest truck U-Haul has," said Local 961 president Mike Booth.
His local voted to spend $1,000 on groceries for strikers, Booth said, and an anonymous member matched it.
Booth and the local’s community service group went shopping at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan in Flint and came away with nearly a pound of produce, cans or dry goods per day for 45 days for each of Local 22’s 700 strikers.
"Our membership firmly believes that their fight is our fight," Booth said. "With pattern bargaining, we absolutely appreciate what they’re doing for us."
Come Tuesday, he said, the executive board will vote on another outlay for a striking local. As surely as U-Haul has a hyphen, he expects approval from the board and then from the membership the following Sunday, with the new 15 tons of provisions bound for a local in Flint.
In Flint, the Wahlburgers restaurant is offering UAW members a 50% discount for the duration of the strike — a lengthy apology after an employee said he wouldn't seat a striker and three family members because of their matching union shirts.
"Wahlburgers stands with and respects all striking UAW-GM workers," the company said in a statement. As for the host, who perhaps could have used a union, "That employee is no longer with the company, and we apologize to the family."
More than 500 people have taken advantage of the mea culpa, a spokeswoman said. In Eastpointe, meanwhile, the Easy Street Saloon is offering an even better deal for UAW members and their families, with no apology required: $1 quarter-pound cheeseburgers, with $1 soft drinks or Miller High Life drafts.
"What I imagine happening," general manager Josh Cohen told The Detroit News, "is people will be coming in and bringing their families and ordering a ton of burgers and feeding inexpensively and walking out really happy."
Managing to undercut a $1 burger, the Yale Hotel has started providing free dinners from 5-9 p.m. on Thursdays. Last week, it was a chili and nacho bar; this week's menu called for meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Originally for UAW members, the offer at the historic restaurant and lodgings in downtown Yale has been widened, according to manager Shelley O'Brien, to "anyone in the area that might need a break."
Ned Budd of Shelby Township, walking a picket line at the Tech Center, said he received a few breaks by asking for them.
His credit union postponed the loan payments on his Chevrolet Silverado for two months, he said. His internet provider dropped his monthly fee from $50 to $20, though as he noted, he had explained that the alternative was losing him as a customer.
Unexpected blessings on the picket line have included pizza, coffee, submarine sandwiches and doughnuts. "So many doughnuts," he said, and he gave an appreciative smile.
The union supplies picket sites with bottled water. Supporters, be they local businesses or simply sympathizers, bring food. A nearby Little Caesars store has dropped off stacks of pizzas, and the Subway half a mile south on Van Dyke Avenue has supplied sandwiches.
The unscheduled donations "slowed down, then sped up, then slowed down again," said Banner, the Aramark painter's assistant. Any delivery is "a good feeling. They're telling us, 'We feel for you guys out here.'"
The Tech Center is unusual in that salaried employees outnumber union members. It's the sixth plant for Budd in 20-plus years with GM, "and here, there's a lot more respect for each other" — which helps explain the managers who pause to hand pizzas out their car windows as they're driving into the lot.
Budd's wife owns her own business, he said, and her customers have brought her gift cards, home-made enchiladas and chili.
The chili didn't have "UAW" written on it, but the Budds got the message.
"I'll be out here till it's right," he said, and he won't be alone.
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