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Facing strike-related temporary layoffs at Fort Wayne supplier, local steelworker union supports UAW

The United Steelworkers logo, containing the union's full name in capitol letters at the top, the letters USW i large, stylized font in the middle and the slogan "Unity and strength for workers" at the bottom.
Courtesy of United Steel Workers
The UAW’s targeted strike at a Toledo Stellantis assembly plant means Jeeps are not being produced there, leading to Dana temporarily laying off more than 250 workers represented by the United Steel Workers in Fort Wayne.

Indiana's Ford, General Motors and Stellantis employees still have not been called to join the United Auto Workers strikes yet.

The state's workers are still being affected as UAW strikes at facilities in other states lead to reduced production and temporary layoffs across the auto supply chain.

Workers at an axle supplier in Fort Wayne are among the latest to feel those effects.

The Dana manufacturing plant produces axles, mostly for a Stellantis assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio. Dana is not part of the national UAW contract negotiations. But the UAW’s targeted strike at that Toledo plant means Jeeps are not being produced there, leading to Dana temporarily laying off more than 250 workers in Fort Wayne.

Gregory Martin represents those Dana workers as president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 903. The "probably 268" layoffs represent about a third of the union workforce at the Dana Fort Wayne plant, he said.

“When they shut down, they don't need our parts anymore,” he said.

Martin said he warned Dana workers that strike-related layoffs were a possibility in the weeks before the UAW’s initial contract deadline on Sept. 14.

“We understood that was going to be something that's going to happen with the strike,” he said. “The production is going to go down [at Stellantis] and what we supply to them is going to have to decrease.”

The issue, he said, is there is no longer enough capacity to ship out and store all the axles Dana can make in Fort Wayne while production in the Toledo assembly plant is halted by the strike.

A company spokesperson declined a request for an interview, and said, "I’m not sure we have anything else to say. The layoffs are an unfortunate result of the UAW strike, as these workers build product for our customers where there are work stoppages."

READ MORE: As temporary Stellantis layoffs loom, UAW workers in Kokomo hit practice picket line

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Local UAW leaders have said they recognize that these strikes will likely impact workers at other auto manufacturing plants in their communities. But they argue that short-term pain is offset by long-term gains as improvements in their contracts will “trickle down” to workers in union and non-union shops alike.

Martin said he agrees, which is part of why his local still supports the UAW strikes, despite these temporary layoffs at Dana. Like some UAW workers at the “big three,” he said workers at Dana’s Fort Wayne plant are under a “tier” system that results in different wage scales and older workers having pensions while younger ones do not.

“They're trying to get rid of that tier program and get the money back that they gave away in 2008, 2009 … We understand what they're going through,” Martin said. “So we're not pointing fingers … Anything that benefits them maybe down the road is going to benefit us in getting rid of the [tiers at Dana].”

The next contract negotiation for his workers is in 2026, Martin said.

The layoffs will likely last at least until the UAW and the big three automakers reach a deal, he said, and more temporary job losses may happen in the meantime.

“We have to stay strong … the middle class has to be getting better, because once the middle class fades away, there will only be the rich and the poor,” Martin said. “As far as a UAW goes, Steelworkers, that's what we always fight for, to make sure we keep a middle class in America so that everybody can buy what you make.”

The laid-off workers began applying for unemployment on Monday, Martin said, adding “it's going good” so far. Dana declined a request for an interview.

Adam is our labor and employment reporter. Contact him at arayes@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB. Contact WBOI's Tony Sandleben at tsandleben@wboi.org or on Twitter at @tony_WBOI.

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Tony Sandleben joined the WBOI News team in September of 2022.

He has covered news his entire adult life, including when he worked as a multi-media journalist at WANE15 News in 2018. He studied journalism and political science at Ball State University.
Adam is Indiana Public Broadcasting's labor and employment reporter. He was born and raised in southeast Michigan, where he got his first job as a sandwich artist at Subway in high school. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 2019, he joined Michigan Radio's Stateside show as a production assistant. He then became the rural and small communities reporter at KUNC in Northern Colorado.