General Motors machine operator David Etherington stood with a handful of co-workers on Friday at the Goyer Road entrance to the Kokomo Components Holding plant.
The group received nearly nonstop honks of support from passing cars as they held “UAW on Strike” signs beneath a baby-blue sky. Smoke simmered from a burn barrel that helped keep the strikers warm on the chilly, fall afternoon.
Etherington said their spirits were still high, but everyone on the picket line agreed: After nearly three weeks on strike, it’s time to get back to work.
“We’re ready, and hopefully it will be soon,” he said. “We’re tired of picketing. It’s getting old. The weather’s turning, and I feel bad for the guys out here at night.”
Members of United Auto Workers Local 292 hit the picket line on Sept. 15, joining 49,000 other members from more than 30 factories in nine states, marking the union’s first walkout against the No. 1 U.S. automaker in over a decade.
Since then, local union members have taken shifts to picket 24-7 at the Kokomo plant along U.S. 31 and Goyer Road.
And how long the strike will go on is anyone’s guess. Etherington said they’ve heard it could be soon, or could be another two months.
“They don’t tell us anything,” he said. “We just read what’s on the internet or Facebook.”
In the meantime, pressure is building on GM and the UAW to reach a deal to end the union’s strike against the automaker, which entered its 19th day on Friday.
Shares of GM have dropped by double digits since the strike began. Vehicle production has stopped at nearly all North American plants. And now, the standstill at the factories could begin having a more substantial impact on GM dealers.
For workers, the strike has left them scrambling to make due with a $250 weekly stipend paid by the union to help with the loss of a paycheck.
Brenda Smith, who is coming up on 20 years working at the Kokomo plant, said it’s been hard trying to make ends meet with limited income, but the strike has been worth it.
“We get by,” she said. “We have to be in solidarity, not just for this little plant, but for everyone. We’re tying to stand for what we believe in.”
Smith said it may be tough, but the outpouring of support from the community has made it easier.
Nearly every day, Pizza Junkiez and Jack’s Donuts has dropped off free food and coffee. On Friday, Burger King gave them something to snack on. GM retirees have also made cookies or BBQ and dropped it off to strikers.
Then there are the union members from all over the Midwest who have showed up to join the picket line.
On Friday, a UAW member from Chicago stopped by with his dog to support the workers. Earlier in the week, two members of an Evansville glass union drove 5 hours to stand with them.
“When you see all the support we’re getting, you think, ‘Yeah, I can do this for another hour or another day or another week,” Smith said. “They’re rooting for us – even this little, bitty plant with just a handful of people.”
But, Smith said, even with the support, she takes no pleasure in the strike. Like everyone else, she wants to get back to work and see her GM family, whether they are union workers or upper management.
“We work with these people every day, so it’s like family, even the salaried people,” she said. “That’s why this is crushing. I don’t like this at all. Those people in there are my friends as well, and I hate to have to do this. I’d much rather be in the plant. I love my job.”
But, Etherington said, the strike will be worth it if local workers can save their jobs and keep their benefits. He said he doesn’t want anything from a new contract. He just wants to keep what he has.
“We don’t want to lose anything,” Etherington said. “But whether that happens remains to be seen.”