Nearly 800 workers at the American Axle plant in Three Rivers should return to their jobs soon.
Members of U.A.W. Local 2093 have been on strike for 86 days.
In voting that ended Thursday night, a tentative contract received support from 78-percent of the union members who cast ballots.
“Uh, certainly mixed emotions I think,” said U.A.W. Local 2093 President Erv Heidbrink, “I think more than anything we’re relieved.”
The overwhelming support came, despite the fact that the package cuts the wages of some workers by as much as ten dollars an hour.
That seems to be indicative of the ‘rock and a hard place’ scenario faced by the workers and the community.
While the strikers have walked the picket lines for the past 12-weeks alone, they’ve had plenty of folks in the community watching their backs.
"We're Hoffman Street Grocery and we gave them a big discount on their milk,” said Anne Mass. “We had about 250-gallons of milk just go out yesterday and thank god we could help them."
Down the block a Three Rivers salon offered half price haircuts to strikers.
The community at large also had a lot to lose if the company followed through on its threat to move the work to Mexico.
"We all thought about that and we were very relieved to hear that didn't happen,” said Christy Trammell with the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce. “That would create an empty building here and the loss of a lot of jobs."
The new contract means that jobs at American Axle won’t pay as much as they used to. Some workers will see wages cut by as much as $10 an hour.
“American Axle made it very clear that for these plants to continue that we would have to be what they termed market competitive in wages and benefits,” said Heidbrink. “And this plant will be market competitive in the terms that Dick Dauch (American Axle CEO) spoke of. Now let’s see will they acquire new business? Will this plant grow? It certainly should, but now the onus is on American Axle to make that happen.”
While the workers did what they had to do to keep the plant in Three Rivers open, some could end up working somewhere else, according to Heidbrink. “And it might mean leaving the state of Michigan. North Carolina, Wyoming, Montana, those areas are growing.”
The package also included several buyout options for more senior workers.
"It should really give this plant an opportunity to grow and we hope as time goes on people's wages and benefits will rise again,” said Heidbrink.
At the present time, the Three Rivers plant basically makes parts for trucks and S.U.V.’s. Sales of those vehicles have declined in light of high gas prices.