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Harvesters provides food, support for striking auto workers

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Posted at 7:28 PM, Oct 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-05 20:28:55-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Harvesters, a local nonprofit, supplied fresh produce Thursday to members of United Auto Workers Local 31 as the GM Fairfax production plant remains on idled status.

The plant has been idled since September 20 due to a supply issue as workers strike at the Wentzville Assembly Plant near St. Louis.

The Fairfax plant in KCK employs over 2,000 people and those employees are not eligible for SUB-pay from the company.

That means many employees and their families are out of work and out of money.

"If you’re not getting a paycheck even for a couple of weeks, it can make a big difference," said Sarah Biles, director of communications for Harvesters. "People have to make some tough decisions between paying their mortgage, paying utilities. All of those bills are regular necessities and so if we can take one thing off their plate and help ease the burden during this time, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks, we want to be able to do that."

Biles said Local 31 told Harvesters to expect about 300 households to stop by Thursday's distribution, but she expected to be much higher considering the number of people employed at the plant.

One of the employees who did stop by, however, explained that a lot of Local 31 members remained at home for a number of reasons.

"Some of the folks in the neighborhood just don’t get out that much due to COVID, that ruined a whole lot of the elderly getting out of the house, so you’d be surprised who’s still shut in," said Robbie Williams, an assembly worker at the Fairfax plant for the past ten years.

Williams says the members of the union are like family to her.

She picked up food not just for her immediate family — an 80-year old mother and autistic son — but also her union brothers and sisters.

"Once I leave here, I’m gonna go see several of my other extended family members to make sure they’re okay," Williams said. "Even though we’re the working class of the community, you still have your people in need no matter if they’re working or not. So this is always a need, no matter what."

Jamie Rowell is another Local 31 member and Fairfax Assembly employee who can attest to the fact that sustaining oneself off a plant worker's salary is not what it used to be. She was around when the plant went on strike in 2019.

She said that experience is not an easy one to forget, especially while trying to support two kids.

"I do know what that’s like," Rowell said. "It’s scary. It’s scary not being able to pay your bills. On strike pay, last strike, we weren’t able to get enough money to pay our bills."

The United Auto Workers Local 31 president, Dontay Wilson, also attended Thursday's distribution.

Wilson said the reason they are striking is because workers like Rowell deserve to be able to sustain themselves as prices for things like produce continue to skyrocket because of inflation.

"These used to be middle class jobs that you could raise and sustain a family on, have college for your kids," Wilson said. "That reality is quickly being dissipated."

All three of these union members agreed the one thing they can count on is each other.

"I mean, you got 30 people out here at you know, been here since 8:30, 9:00 this morning for no other reason but to help both their brothers and sisters, union brothers and sisters and people of the community," Wilson said. "That’s not an accident, you know. That’s not some frivolous thing."

That's why Williams is willing to make her rounds around town for her immediate and extended family members.

"When you go check on folks, you’d be surprised what a kind hello or a small gesture does for someone who’s doing and out, what that does for them," she said.

Williams says the gesture she received — a box of produce — is a great start.

"Even though it’s only a small box, you’d be surprised how far that box can go," she said.