UAW members at Stellantis casting plant in Kokomo, Indiana, strike for local contract

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Workers at a casting plant for the maker of Jeep and Ram vehicles on Saturday went on strike to demand a local agreement with Stellantis NV that provides members with a "safe and comfortable place to work," the United Auto Workers said in a statement.

Leaders of UAW Local 1166 have been negotiating with the company since 2019, according to a letter sent earlier to members by local President Dave Willis Sr. They are demanding Stellantis replace its heating and air-condition system that they say the company said it would do years ago, provide uniforms like it does at other plants, repair equipment to secure work in-house and address overtime language to protect departments and classifications.

"We have been met with the same response over and over that there is 'no money' for these items," Willis wrote in the letter alerting members the local contract would expire at midnight Saturday when workers began their strike. "At the same time Stellantis posted profits of 34% from 2021 and $8 billion in profits. This committee is committed to securing a local agreement."

Stellantis spokesman Jodi Tinson in a statement said the transatlantic automaker is committed to providing a "safe and healthy work environment for all employees."

"After bargaining in good faith for two days and presenting an offer we believed addressed the union’s concerns, we are disappointed by the UAW’s decision to walk out," Tinson said. "We will look to get back to the table as soon as possible to resume negotiations to reach an agreement on a local contract."

The strike action comes as an uptick in union activity sweeps the country while companies compete for too few workers, empowering employees to demand union representation and better pay and working conditions. National negotiations between the UAW and the Detroit Three automakers are set to kick off next summer.

“Stellantis claims it has no money to meet the basic needs of UAW Local 1166 members while, at the same time, it is making record profits and investing billions in a new battery plant across the street,” UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said in a statement.  “This strike represents UAW Local 1166 members telling Stellantis enough is enough.”

Kokomo Casting is the world’s largest die cast facility, according to Stellantis' website. The 625,000-square-foot facility produces aluminum parts for automotive components, transmissions and transaxle cases as well as engine block castings. The facility employs 142 salaried and 1,071 hourly employees. Both UAW Local 1166 and 1302 represent workers there.

“UAW members have made Stellantis their profits," UAW President Ray Curry said in a statement, "yet the company is indifferent to the working conditions that Local 1166 members must endure.” 

Stellantis in May announced with South Korean battery manufacturer Samsung SDI that their joint venture would construct a new $2.5 billion electric-vehicle battery plant in the city where Stellantis has several components plants.

The casting plant itself last month was a part of a $99 million investment in three North American plants for production of a new 1.6-liter, I-4 turbocharged engine that can support gas-powered and hybrid-electric powertrains. More than $14 million of that will convert existing die cast machines and cells for production of the engine blocks at Kokomo Casting.

“The working conditions at the Stellantis Kokomo Casting plant are unacceptable," UAW Region 2B Director Wayne Blanchard said in a statement. "UAW Local 1166 members have been patient with the company, but now is the time for them to have a new local collective bargaining agreement that corrects these issues.”

General Motors Co. in June avoided a strike with UAW members at several Michigan plants employed by its subsidiary GM Subsystems LLC who aren't covered by the national agreement with the UAW after reaching a tentative agreement with the union that workers later ratified.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble