A push to preserve as many U.S. production jobs with the company as possible inspired much of the enthusiasm among UAW Local 2209 members walking picket lines during their first day of the union’s General Motors Co. strike.

“We’ve been working on this for months, preparing them,” said Holli Murphy, president of the local, Sept. 16, the first afternoon after the United Auto Workers called a nationwide strike against GM.

The night shift walkout that took place at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 15 “was very orderly,” she said. “Our membership’s been ready, and eager, so eager.”

“The first group that goes out is usually the most rambunctious one, the one that you walk out of the plant,” said Rich LeTourneau, shop chairman for Local 2209. “If anything is going to get really crazy, it’s the first group that normally does it. Everybody did a great job, and they were very professional.”

GM’s Fort Wayne Assembly plant employs about 4,500, including temporary workers, making Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. Local 2209 represents everyone there with the exception of about 300 management positions, he said.

Its union hall parking lot was nearly full on the afternoon of Sept. 16 as members gathered there to show solidarity for the strike and to fulfill their weekly strike assignments.

The members walk picket lines at least four hours each week to qualify for weekly strike fund payments of $250. The assignments are based on the shift they normally work at the plant and where their last name falls in the alphabet.

“As far as being financially prepared, we gave them many warnings to be prepared for this because we could be out a week; we could be out for a month, we could be out for two months,” LeTourneau said.

Murphy and LeTourneau were among the leaders of UAW locals who met with the union’s top officials in Detroit the day the strike was called.

They said they believe GM was selected from among the Big Three automakers based in Detroit as the bargaining target company based on its financial stability and a decision it announced last year to idle five U.S. plants.

Earlier this year, the company reported 2018 earnings of $8 billion, or $5.53 per share, on revenues of $147 billion.

Last year, GM had said underutilized facility “unallocations” scheduled for 2019 would take place at two propulsion plants — Baltimore Operations in White Marsh, Maryland, and Warren Transmission Operations in Warren, Michigan — and at Lordstown Assembly in Warren, Ohio; Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in Detroit, and Oshawa Assembly in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

GM had been refocusing capital and resources during the past four years to support growth of its crossovers, SUVs and trucks, and it said in a statement the plan was designed to optimize its product portfolio and transform product development to improve quality and speed to market.

The changes would cut 14,000 hourly and salaried positions and contribute to annual cost reductions of $4.5 billion and a lower capital expenditure annual run rate of close to $1.5 billion.

“Those five plants are a big issue with the international union and us,” LeTourneau said.

“You know, fortunately, we were able to find homes for a lot of them because they transferred here, a lot of them did. But, they uprooted their families, and they had to move, so that’s a big issue.”

On the first day of trading after the strike was called, GM stock closed at $37.21 per share, down from $38.86 per share for Sept. 13, due to uncertainty over the length of the first strike that the company was facing in a dozen years.

“When you go into national and local negotiations you’ve got sub-committees, and they said they hadn’t settled one subcommittee yet. That tells me they’re miles apart,” LeTourneau said.

However, “it’s way too expensive for GM to be out long,” he said. “I just think the issues on the table are worth settling as opposed to losing that kind of revenue.”

Several national business publications quoted Credit Suisse analyst Dan Levy as estimating the strike could cost GM $50 million for each day it lasted.

GM has sunk a lot of money into its local operations. The company invested close to $1.2 billion to prepare the facility near the intersection of U.S. 24 and Interstate 69 at Roanoke for production of the next-generation pickups launched last year.

Success with the redesign prompted the company to invest an additional $24 million in its Fort Wayne Assembly Plant this year for a new round of upgrades aimed at increasing its production capacity.

GM has put a lot of money into its local operations. The company invested close to $1.2 billion to prepare the facility near the intersection of U.S. 24 and Interstate 69 in Roanoke for production of the next-generation pickups launched last year.

Success with the redesign prompted the company to invest an additional $24 million in its Fort Wayne Assembly Plant this year for a new round of upgrades aimed at increasing its production capacity.

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