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'Squad' members rally with GM workers on day 10 of Wentzville strike

A young Black woman wearing all black clothing and glasses holds a "UAW On Strike" sign up over her head. She is standing next to a stretch of highway.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Rachelle Bennett holds a sign up to oncoming cars while picketing Sunday at the General Motors Assembly plant in Wentzville, Mo. This is Bennett's first year working at the plant.

Workers at the General Motors plant in Wentzville say their spirits are high as a strike against the American Big Three automakers stretches into a second week.

“I’m not worried,” said Leslie Barnes, who was walking the picket line Sunday along Highway A in St. Charles County. “We’re going to get through this.”

Sunday was the ninth day Barnes and her fellow plant employees had been walking picket lines at the plant, which makes midsize pickups and full-size vans. It was the first GM plant targeted in the strike – workers have since walked off the job at 38 other GM and Stellantis parts distribution centers.

“Solidarity, baby!” Barnes said of the expansion. “That’s how we do it.”

Matthew Bergman, who works in the van body shop, had mixed reactions to the strike expansion.

“It’s hard on the membership and families to be on strike,” Bergman said. “But at the same time, these corporations need to know that we deserve what we want. It’s not us being crazy. We’re not going to take a crappy contract.”

The union decided not to expand the strike against Ford, citing progress in that contract negotiation.

The UAW is calling for a 36% pay increase across a four-year contract, plus annual cost-of-living adjustments. The union also wants to restore pensions for workers hired after 2007, as well as greater job security. This is the first time UAW has struck against all three automakers at once.

“We all deserve a future,” said Dakota Chapman, who has worked at the Wentzville plant for almost nine years. “This is a precedent that we need to set for our country to start making jobs for our country. The working class needs to pick it back up.”

Local 2250 went on strike in 2019 for 40 days. Chapman said he and his fellow workers are prepared to be out for as long or longer.

American politician Alexandria Occasio-Cortez shakes hands with a woman. She is standing amongst a sea of other people, all wearing red t-shirts. Occasio-Cortez is wearing a red suit.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., shakes hands and takes pictures with members of United Auto Workers and their supporters after a rally in support of their strike against the Big Three automakers on Sunday at Local 2250 headquarters in Wentzville.

'Squad' members rally workers

Democratic U.S. Reps. Cori Bush of St. Louis County and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York became the latest politicians and political figures to join Local 2250 employees on the picket line Sunday.

“I’m here to stand in solidarity with you,” said Bush, whose father was a union meat cutter. “When workers who build the Chevy Colorado can’t afford to buy a Chevy Colorado, that’s a red flag, and it’s time for a change."

Ocasio-Cortez called it an honor to be asked to rally with the workers. She said it was time for the UAW to call in the “IOU” workers granted when they offered concessions to help stabilize the auto industry in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse.

“It’s time to cash the check,” she said.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.