Aug 11, 2023

UAW members in Hamburg 'practice picket' amid contract talks

Jake Thompson, center, and other UAW members engage in "practice picketing" outside UAW Local 897 along Route 5 in Hamburg.

Over 40 members of United Auto Workers and their supporters were waving signs on Thursday, just down Route 5 from the Ford stamping plant in Hamburg.

They weren’t on strike. They called it “practice picketing,” making themselves seen and heard as the UAW and the Detroit Three automakers negotiate new contracts.

“It’s to send a message to the companies we work for that the membership is united, and if companies force us to walk, we’re ready to do it,” said Daniel Vicente, director of Amherst-based UAW Region 9.

Daniel Vicente and his daughter Sabrina Vicente, 1, join UAW members to engage in “practice picketing” outside UAW Local 897 along Route 5 in Hamburg.

It’s a tactic UAW locals around the country have used during the negotiations. The members picketing along Route 5 were from UAW Local 897, which represents 748 hourly workers at the Ford plant.

“It gives a lot of hope and it gives a lot of power to the bargaining teams, to let them know they’re not out there by themselves,” Vicente said. “They have the backing of rank-and-file membership.”

Teamsters union members at UPS used practice picketing during their own contract talks, generating a show of unity that attracted media attention. The two sides reached a deal that averted a threatened strike; that agreement was recently ratified.

Whether the practice picketing by the UAW turns into the real thing remains to be seen. The current labor contracts between the UAW and Detroit Three are set to expire Sept. 14, and the UAW has threatened to strike one or more of the automakers if deals aren’t reached.

The workers at the Ford stamping plant make metal parts for a variety of Ford vehicles. The largest share of its parts is shipped up the QEW, to a Ford plant in Oakville, Ont.

Patrick Radtke, president and chairman of UAW Local 897, said the local’s members want a new contract that reflects Ford’s financial success.

“They want equality,” Radtke said. “Their labor produces these massive profits. They want a piece of that, their fair share. That’s all.”

"We're going to show them that we're strong throughout the country and that we're willing to walk out and withhold our labor if that means getting a fair contract," said James Lakeman, a representative with UAW Region 9.

Radtke said production has picked up inside the plant, putting more of a strain on the workforce.

“We’re actually very busy,” he said. “We’re out of the supplier shortages, so our volumes are up over 100%. Mandatory Saturdays now, so it’s hard.”

The outcome of the UAW-Detroit Three contract talks will be closely watched in the Buffalo Niagara region. In addition to the Ford plant, the region is home to two General Motors plants, in Lockport and the Town of Tonawanda.

UAW members around the country have cast ballots in strike authorization votes, to decide whether to give union leaders the power to call a strike at one or more of the Detroit Three automakers if deals can’t be reached. UAW president Shawn Fain plans to release the results of the voting at 11 a.m. Friday. The vote is expected to be overwhelmingly in favor.

What happens after that will unfold at the bargaining table. The UAW has not had a strike at Ford since 1976, but had a 40-day strike at GM in 2019.

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Members of UAW Local 897 "practice picket" outside their union hall on Route 5 on Thursday.