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Opinion: UAW members support community

Rory Gamble

When UAW members pledge to support each other, they do not mean just fellow UAW members. The sense of brotherhood and sisterhood is not only about working conditions, fair wages and benefits for UAW members — it’s about supporting the whole community, ensuring healthy lives and doing our part as a family of people creating rewarding lives in this country and around the world.

Nothing could illustrate this fact more than the thousands of UAW members who have volunteered to work around the clock with companies in every sector to manufacture much-needed medical equipment during this time of crisis. Working with health officials and governmental agencies, the UAW has worked with multiple companies to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by shifting production to face masks for medical use, personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators. And it is our membership on the front lines, taking the risk and doing the work.

Cindy Parkhurst works at the Ford Flat Rock Assembly Plant. Like hundreds of workers at Ford, General Motors, Toyota and other companies, Parkhurst has gone back to work to make face shields, surgical masks and even ventilators in a wartime-like effort to stem shortages of protective gear and equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.

At Ford Motor Co., members continue to step up and volunteer to work during this difficult time at the facility across from the Flat Rock plant to make respirators and at the Van Dyke Transmission Plant to make face masks for medical use. Diligently following stringent Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, they are going above and beyond to proudly volunteer to serve their communities and their nation.

Take Travis Fick for example: On staff at the Warren Technical Center, he jumped wholeheartedly into the fight against the virus when he heard there was a shortage of personal protection equipment. The Local 160 member started a Facebook group to rally others who could and would help out. He also called businesses such as dentist offices that had closed because they were not essential, but might have N95 masks, gloves, medical gowns and caps or anything else that could be used on the front lines.

Within days, a few hundred people were in the Facebook group, some sewing, and some helping raise awareness. Now, the group includes about 1,300 members, a website with a map to show how his Michigan COVID-19 relief project is coming and where donations are going, and 50 sewers producing 500 masks daily for workers in Detroit, Port Huron, Grand Rapids and more. Nearly 8,000 masks have been donated.

Or Penni Cox, who was previously laid off from her job at the General Motors plant in Kokomo, Indiana. Cox, a third-generation autoworker and member of UAW Local 292, is now making ventilators at the restructured facility.

Cox’ husband and son — both UAW members — will also take up the work.

And here’s what she had to say about the work: “We tell our children and grandchildren to give back and pay it forward. Here is our opportunity to show them exactly what that means.”

Cox says that despite being concerned about contracting the virus, “We all just want to protect our family and friends. We’re not on the front lines like doctors and nurses and medical professionals, but this is our way to support the fight. This is history. One day we can explain to our grandchildren that this was the year they couldn’t have a birthday party, but it was the year we helped save lives.”

And that’s what the UAW is about. Community. Helping each other. Going the extra mile.

As we all work through this crisis, the UAW leadership continues to work with all of our company sectors on safe protocols once the economy reopens.

Rory Gamble is president of the UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.