By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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BELVIDERE — The United Auto Workers have released a new video demanding “Justice for Belvidere” less than a week before a labor contract covering roughly 150,000 union workers is set to expire.
The video illustrates how the Belvidere Assembly Plant has been a focal point in the contentious negotiations between the Big Three automakers and the UAW. The union has made Belvidere a centerpiece of its proposals to stop plant closures, and union leadership said workers are prepared to strike if a deal isn’t reached by Thursday when the contract expires.
The factory was left idle indefinitely at the end of February and roughly 1,300 workers were laid off.
“The way it is now. It’s so heartbreaking. I don’t even like driving by it,” Dawn Simms, a 24-year assembly worker at Belvidere and member of UAW Local 1268, says in the video.
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Simms says in the video that her grandfather started working at the plant in 1965.
“It’s the reason my family came to Belvidere. They came here for work at Chrysler,” she said. “It’s something that was a part of me since I was a little girl, and with Stellantis it all went away.”
Union members voted by 97% last month to authorize a strike if automakers don’t meet their demands for better wages and benefits. The union has more than $825 million in its strike fund and recently raised strike pay to $500 per week, per member.
“Everybody’s connected to this plant. It’s not just Belvidere,” Horace Hubbard Jr. of Rockford, the chairman of the UAW Region 4 Veterans Council, says in the video. “The families. The cities. You don’t understand the domino effect that you’re causing.”
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said in July that the plant could reopen depending on the outcome of union negotiations and the success of the company’s electric vehicle rollout in the United States. Tavares said that while the company was reporting record profits for the first half of the year, something union members have pointed to as evidence the company can afford to provide better wages.
State lawmakers in Illinois have offered a massive incentive package to Stellantis to convince the company to convert the Belvidere plant to an EV facility. The UAW said it supports the transition to EV, so long as that transition provides good-paying jobs that support working families.
In the 4 minute and 37 second video, workers from Belvidere emphasize that the plant deserves a product because of the high-ranking quality of its work.
“This membership has always gone above and beyond. We’re not a bargaining chip. We’ve earned this product,” Matt Frantzen, president of UAW Local 1268, says in the video. “We’re open let’s sit down and talk.”