These Wisconsin residents drive 5 hours just to strike for the UAW, and they’re not alone

These Wisconsin residents drive 5 hours just to strike for the UAW, and they’re not alone

Randy Hookstead, Tom Hunn and Mark Herr are part of a group of former Janesville General Motors employees who now commute weekly to work in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Combined, the three have given a lifetime of service at GM.

On Wednesday afternoon, their commute to Indiana wasn’t to work but rather, to strike.

“Our strike day is on Wednesday,” said Mark Herr, as he and others tried their best to keep warm outside the Fort Wayne assembly plant.

Herr, Hunn and Hookstead were among roughly 20 people striking outside the plant’s main gate.

“We carpool down here,” Herr said. “We’ve got a 4 1/2 hour drive down here. We do our time on the picket line, then we turn around and go back home.”

Herr grew up in Clinton, Wisconsin, and worked in the meat-cutting business prior to starting at General Motors’ Janesville plant.

He said he can still remember his first day on the job.

On Wednesday night, I spent time on the picket line with Randy Hookstead, Tom Hunn, and Mark Hurr. Years ago, all three worked at GM in Janesville.

Now, they commute 5 hours to Indiana to strike from 6:30-10:30. Then, they drive 5 hours home. #News3Now @WISCTV_News3

— Adam Duxter (@News3Adam) October 17, 2019

“As I drove up, it was in the morning and all the lights were on,” he said. “It was a huge, huge, building. I thought: What did I get myself into? How am I even going to find where I need to go in this place?”

Eventually, Herr found his way around, working in the plant as a material truck driver.

Tom Hunn has a similar story. After working in a management position within a different company, he started working at the former Janesville plant in the late 1990s.

“We had a good group of guys and gals,” Hunn said. “Everyone seemed to enjoy coming to work, for the most part. It was a good atmosphere.”

In 2008, the Janesville plant announced it was closing for good. Herr and Hunn were left without jobs.

“It made you wonder what you were going to do,” Herr said.

Some employees at the Janesville plant transferred almost immediately. Hunn and Herr did not. Eventually, the two decided it would be best to finish their time with the company, even if it meant commuting to a different state.

“It was whatever you had to do,” Hunn said. “We would make the best decision for the family and go from there.”

Almost a decade later, they’re just years from retirement. While their future is relatively certain, the future of General Motors is not.

On Thursday, the General Motors and United Automobile Workers entered into day 32 of a complete work stoppage. While this means Herr and Hunn can’t go to work at the Fort Wayne assembly plant, it also means they must picket at least once a week for four hours.

“We chose to do this, but it’s stressful,” Hunn said. “You just try and pass the time. Make it go as quick as you can, talk to guys, tell stories. You just have to keep busy. Keep your mind busy and keep occupied.”

Despite a tentative agreement made between GM and the UAW on Wednesday afternoon, the picketing will continue until further notice.

Hunn said that, despite General Motors closing in Janesville and despite the fact he likely won’t see the benefits he’s striking for prior to his retirement, he’s striking out of commitment to the UAW and his love for General Motors.

“GM is very important to us,” he said. “We value what we’ve gotten from GM. We value what we’ve gotten from the company. They’ve given us a great opportunity to make good wages and good benefits and do well by our children and families.”

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