Former Baltimore student worked at 3 plants GM shut down. Now he does double picket duty in strike.
By Jamie L. LaReau
Detroit Free Press (TNS)|
Sep 21, 2019 at 3:04 PM
At 8 a.m. Monday Mike Yakim walked the picket line at General Motors’ Lansing, Mich., Delta Township plant.
Less than 48 hours later, Yakim was on the picket line in front of GM’s largely vacated Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio, where he had worked for more than eight years before GM idled it in March.
“Since we don’t have a lot of people at Lordstown, the union put out a note on Facebook that anyone in the area, retirees or anyone, can come give us a hand picketing,” said Yakim.
Yakim, 51, was not exactly in the area. He was some 280 miles away in Lansing, working his sixth day on the job at GM’s Lansing Delta Township plant.
Still, Yakim heeded his former home’s call and he is now is toggling between two worlds. He is prepared to walk two picket lines too: Lordstown this week, Lansing next week if the UAW’s strike against GM continues.
“I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” said Yakim, from his home near Lordstown. “This is my plant and this is my home and this is where I want to be, and the guys in Lansing understand that.”
GM announced last fall that it would “unallocate” product to four U.S. plants, idling them indefinitely. Detroit-Hamtramck is one of them, but it continues to run. Transmission plants in Warren, Mich., and Baltimore are shuttered.
And Lordstown, where GM had built the Chevrolet Cruze compact car. Lordstown built its final Cruze on March 6, then the 6.2 million-square foot factory went silent. Its thousands of workers are gone, many transferred to plants out of state, and the giant building is nearly vacant.
Yakim was working the last shift at the plant on March 6. He watched the final car roll off the line.
“It was like losing a friend, losing a family member,” Yakim said.
Yakim has worked at three GM plants that have shut down during his 25-year career with the company. Still, that ending at Lordstown haunts him.
“This is the fourth plant I have been to trying to chase the GM dream,” Yakim said.
Top chef on back burner
In 1986, Yakim was in college in Baltimore, where he grew up, studying culinary arts. To pay for his classes, Yakim worked in a temporary job at GM’s Baltimore Assembly plant, which built the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans.
“I was doing every job they would throw at you,” Yakim said. “I filled in for people who went on vacations. I went to trim and I learned all those jobs.”
In December 1994, Yakim put his dreams of being a chef on the back burner to accept a permanent, full-time job on the assembly line in Baltimore.
“It was one of the greatest Christmas gifts you could get,” said Yakim. “I remember telling my mom, ‘I could retire doing this.’”
Then in 2000, GM transferred Yakim its plant on Boxwood Road in Wilmington, Delaware, where he worked assembling Saturn L-Series cars.
He stayed only three years before he was transferred back to Baltimore, which closed in 2005. GM sent Yakim back to the Delaware plant then, where he worked until 2008 and was laid off in the Great Recession.
GM shuttered its Delaware facility in 2009 as part of its bankruptcy.
Yakim then was offered the chance to work at Lordstown in November 2010, he said.
“My benefits were almost exhausted by the time I got to Lordstown,” said Yakim. “I left my family back East. Every other weekend I’d go back to Baltimore, I’d drive about 325 to 350 miles to see my wife and son” who had just started high school.
Yakim really liked Lordstown and soon bought a house in nearby Youngstown, where his wife and son joined him in 2014.
Rolled at midnight
But after GM built the last Cruze there in March, Yakim was laid off for six months.
Then, on Sept. 9, he accepted a transfer to Lansing Delta Township plant, where GM builds the Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse SUVs. He works in the trim department installing front and rear fascias and headlights.
Still calling Lordstown home, Yakim rents an apartment in Lansing and drives home to Ohio to be with his family on his days off.
Sunday, Sept. 15, was his sixth day on the job. He’s got the midnight shift, working 9 p.m.-6:30 a.m. But at one minute before midnight, his day came to a halt as the UAW began a nationwide strike against GM.
“At 11:59 when they pulled the cord on it, there were a lot of people who were looking around as to what to do and I said, ‘Come on, we’re done.’ I grabbed my stuff and rolled,” said Yakim.
Yakim was scheduled to walk the picket line in Lansing this Friday, but got permission from the president of UAW local to switch to Monday so that he could lend a hand to the scattered few outside of Lordstown the rest of this week.
So from 8 a.m.-noon Monday, Yakim walked the line in Lansing. He immediately got in his pickup and drove 280 miles to Lordstown, and by Wednesday morning he was on the picket line there with half a dozen union brothers and sisters. There was a homemade sign that read: “GM Invest in Lordstown.”
GM said in a media release Sunday that its initial contract offer to the UAW had solutions to keep Lordstown and Detroit-Hamtramck running.
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GM would build an electric pickup at Detroit-Hamtramck and part of Lordstown would be used to make battery cells. Also, electric truck manufacturer Workhorse is part of a group that is in discussions with GM to buy Lordstown. Sources say that plan is still on the table.
Yakim said he plans to picket at Lordstown the rest of the week. If the UAW is still on strike Monday, his son, who is now in his second year of law school, will join him on the picket line in Lordstown. Yakim will head back to picket in Michigan later next week.
“This is home. I am not going to sell my house here,” Yakim said of Lordstown. “Whether I finish in Lansing or Lordstown, I plan to retire here.”