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Ford workers in Chicago prepared to join national UAW strike against "Big 3" automakers

Ford workers in Chicago prepared to join UAW strike
Ford workers in Chicago prepared to join UAW strike 02:16

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Workers at Ford's assembly plant in Chicago were not among the thousands of autoworkers who walked off the job on Friday, but said they're ready to join the strike if needed.

More than 13,000 members of the United Auto Workers walked off the job on Friday, after the union failed to reach a deal by Thursday night's deadline with the "Big 3" car companies – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis.

It's the largest strike by active employees in the U.S. in 25 years.

So far the walkouts have been limited to a Ford factory in Michigan, a GM plant in Missouri, and a Stellantis complex in Ohio.

Longtime workers at the Ford factory on Torrence Avenue in Chicago said they're ready to walk out, too.

"There is relief that we're still continuing to work with an expired contract, but we're on standby right now. So we could be a target in the near future, and all our members – the 5,500 that we represent at Chicago Assembly – are ready, and mobilized, and organized for a strike," said UAW Local 551 president Chris Pena.

With more than 5,000 employees, and one of the largest and most historic plants in the country, they know if they do decide to go on strike, it would make a major impact on the industry.

So far the strike has focused on three plants that manufacture engines and transmissions, but if the Ford plant in Chicago can't get those parts, they can't make cars even if the workers aren't on strike.

"People are Loyal to these companies, and we just want to be in the game just like everyone else," said Jeff Pena, who has worked at the Chicago Ford plant for 28 years. "If you break it down, the money's made on our backs."

Pena said he hasn't had a pay raise in more than a decade, making it hard to make ends meet on his salary in Chicago.

The UAW's demands include a 36% pay increase across a four-year contract; pension benefits for all employees; limited use of temporary workers; more paid time off, including a four-day workweek; and more job protections, including the right to strike over plant closings. 

Ford CEO Jim Farley has said they've made reasonable counter offers, and the initial offer that UAW put on the table would put his company out of business.

No negotiations were scheduled for Friday. The soonest the two sides could return to the bargaining table is Saturday.

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