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Wentzville GM workers’ resolve tested as strike nears month, impact ripples through community

Wentzville GM workers’ resolve tested as strike nears month, impact ripples through community

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WENTZVILLE — At Lowrey’s Streetside Pub in downtown Wentzville is a note card with the names of at least nine local auto suppliers that have cut back or closed down since the start of the nearly monthlong strike by thousands of General Motors employees.

The bar offers $1-off drinks every Friday for the more than 4,000 local GM employees on strike, as well as hundreds of employees at auto parts makers forced to skimp.

“Our customers are our family,” said Adrienne Lowrey, whose family owns the bar, where a mirror along one wall has stickers displaying support for several area unions. “If the guy on a bar stool next to you is struggling, you do what you can to help out.”

The pub is one of several local businesses rallying behind UAW members and affected auto businesses as the strike stretched Friday into its 27th day.

Restaurants are delivering free meals to the picket lines. Barbers are offering free haircuts.

“They have a lot of community support,” said Wentzville Mayor Nick Guccione. The plant, which makes full-size vans as well as the popular Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon trucks, is Wentzville’s top employer.

The plant employs about 4,320 workers, many of whom commute from across the region, and UAW officials say there are also about 200 employees who are contracted for cleaning services.

Nearly 49,000 UAW members at the No. 1 U.S. car maker walked off the job Sept. 15 after their four-year contract expired and negotiations fell through. The union seeks higher pay, greater job security, protection of health care benefits and a bigger share of the automaker’s profits, which reached a record high in recent years.

Top negotiators in Detroit continued Friday to discuss major economic issues including wages, lump-sum payments, better pensions and increasing production at U.S. plants. The strike has halted production at GM’s U.S. factories as well as some factories in Canada and Mexico, costing GM more than $1 billion in profits. Striking workers, meanwhile, have to live off $250 a week, paid by the union.

Outside the GM plant on Highway A in Wentzville, passing motorists honk in support of groups of strikers in front of each of the plant’s five gates.

“Our resolve is firm and our spirits are high,” Glenn Kage, president of UAW Local 2250, said Thursday at the union hall a short drive from the plant. “It doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, we continue to picket 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Kage said members have been saving money for months or even years in advance of the strike. But some members have had to seek second jobs to make ends meet.

“We understand that they have families to take care of and bills to pay,” he said.

Justin Story arrived at the union hall about an hour before his four-hour shift on the picket line Thursday to help hand coworkers their weekly check.

“It’s scary in its own right, but it’s also a cool experience,” said Story, 28, of Moscow Mills. “The unity. The bond. The solidarity.

“This is history right now. My kids will read about this someday, and I can say I was there on that picket line.”

Story, who works in the paint department, is a second-generation employee. He joined his father, Kevin Story, 54, at the plant eight years ago. He’s been saving up money in anticipation of a strike ever since.

Still, he and his girlfriend, who is between jobs, and her daughter have had to scale back on their spending, including groceries.

“I’m not barbecuing every day like I would like to,” he said. “We’re just being cautious.”

Other UAW workers with larger families are “scraping by,” Story said.

Several area businesses have shut down operations and laid off workers or cut back their hours because of the drop in demand.

That has affected about 800 workers, said UAW Local 282 President Bill Hugeback. The local is helping the workers file for unemployment and get assistance from food pantries, churches and other groups, he said.

“If it goes on, it’s going to get tougher for folks,” Hugeback said. “But we’re doing what we can for them.”

Normally, Pete’s Drive-In fills large orders of catfish and chicken dinners, burgers and salads on Fridays for employees at the GM plant, said Marsha Perotti, whose family owns the longstanding diner. Friday was the fourth week that didn’t happen. “It’s definitely quieter around here,” she said.

The diner has donated chili dinners to picketing strikers. But Perotti has lost more business from regulars who work at auto suppliers like Lear Corp., she said. And the fact that the strike negotiations are taking place far away from Wentzville has left people without any clear indication of when the strike will end, Perotti said.

Tanya Cross, manager at West Allen Grill, said the restaurant has seen an uptick in business — strike workers have come in after picketing.

“But I worry that could be short-lived,” Cross said. “I know money is tight.”

The grill typically caters holiday parties at the auto supply manufacturers, she said.

“If it continues through the holidays,” she said, “that would hurt.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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