Detroit, the Motor City, became the Strike City on Thursday as thousands of workers from different industries marched and rallied downtown to demand better pay, benefits and working conditions. The workers, who came from casinos, health insurers and auto plants, were joined by labor leaders, elected officials and supporters of their cause.
The march and rally, organized by a coalition of labor unions, was dubbed as the Detroit’s March for Workers’ Rights and Economic Justice. It was one of the largest demonstrations of worker solidarity in the city’s history.
The workers are facing various challenges in their respective sectors, such as low wages, rising health care costs, lack of retirement security, unfair labor practices and technological changes that threaten their jobs. They are also frustrated by the growing gap between the profits of their employers and the compensation of their employees.
Casino workers walk off the job for the first time
One of the most visible groups of strikers were the casino workers, who walked off the job for the first time in Detroit history on Tuesday. About 3,700 workers from MGM Grand, MotorCity Casino Hotel and Hollywood Casino at Greektown are on strike after failing to reach new contracts with their employers.
The casino workers, who include dealers, cleaners, food and beverage staff, valets, engineers and others, are represented by the Detroit Casino Council, a coalition of five unions. They are demanding wages that keep up with inflation, retirement security, technology protections and other gains.
Destiny Jackson, a 20-year-old kitchen worker at MGM Grand Detroit, said she joined the strike because she felt overworked and underpaid. She said she makes about $16.50 an hour and struggles to make ends meet.
“It’s hard,” she said. “You’ve really got to watch what you’re doing with each check.”
The casino officials have said they are bargaining in good faith to reach fair contracts and that they have offered significant pay increases and benefits to the workers. They have also said that the casino operations will continue despite the strike.
Health insurer workers fight for affordable health care
Another group of strikers were the health insurer workers from Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan (BCBSM), who went on strike on Monday after rejecting a tentative agreement with their employer. About 1,500 workers from BCBSM are on strike across the state, including about 800 in Detroit.
The health insurer workers, who are members of Teamsters Local 2375, are fighting for affordable health care for themselves and their families. They are also seeking wage increases, job security and respect from management.
Lisa Smith, a 45-year-old customer service representative at BCBSM in Detroit, said she joined the strike because she could not afford the health insurance plan offered by her employer. She said she pays about $400 a month for her coverage and has a $6,000 deductible.
“I work for a health insurance company and I can’t afford health insurance,” she said. “That’s ridiculous.”
The BCBSM officials have said they are disappointed by the strike and that they have offered a competitive compensation package to the workers. They have also said that they are committed to reaching a resolution and that they will continue to serve their customers during the strike.
Auto workers demand fair share of profits
A third group of strikers were the auto workers from General Motors (GM), Ford and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler), who went on strike on Wednesday after their contracts expired. About 150,000 workers from the three automakers are on strike nationwide, including about 40,000 in Detroit.
The auto workers, who are members of United Auto Workers (UAW), are demanding a fair share of the record profits that the automakers have made in recent years. They are also seeking higher wages, better health care benefits, more job security and investment in electric vehicles.
Mike Booth, a 50-year-old assembly worker at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant and vice president of UAW Local 22, said he joined the strike because he wanted to protect his future and his family’s future. He said he has worked for GM for 30 years and has seen many ups and downs in the industry.
“We’ve given up a lot over the years,” he said. “We’ve taken concessions, we’ve taken pay cuts, we’ve taken benefit cuts. Now it’s time for us to get some of that back.”
The automaker officials have said they are disappointed by the strike and that they have offered generous proposals to the workers. They have also said that they are working hard to reach new agreements and that they will minimize the impact of the strike on their production and customers.
Workers receive support from labor leaders and elected officials
The striking workers received support from labor leaders and elected officials who spoke at the rally in Hart Plaza. They praised the workers for their courage and solidarity and urged them to keep fighting for their rights and dignity.
Liz Shuler, the president of AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the U.S., said the workers were making history and inspiring others to join the labor movement.
“You are showing the country what it means to stand up and fight back,” she said. “You are showing the country what it means to be union strong.”
Garlin Gilchrist, the lieutenant governor of Michigan, said the state government was standing with the workers and supporting their demands. He said the workers deserved fair pay and benefits, safe working conditions and a voice in their workplaces.
“I want you to know that the whole state of Michigan is here with you,” he said. “We are proud of you, we are grateful for you, and we are with you every step of the way.”
The rally ended with a chant of “One day longer, one day stronger,” as the workers vowed to continue their strike until they win.