GM chip strategy leaves Kansas plant in the cold

Fairfax workers are enduring their third lengthy shutdown in less than two years, starting with the UAW’s 40-day strike against GM during contract negotiations in the fall of 2019. Last year, they were off for eight weeks at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The last two years, I’ve seen a spike in stress and anxiety and suicidal thoughts — more than I’ve seen in this job since 2010,” said Walker, the employee assistance representative at the plant.

Opioid addictions and alcoholism have worsened during the layoff, Walker said. Many who were in recovery have reverted to bad habits because of idle time at home, without accountability and support from co-workers dealing with similar issues, he said.

Working at an assembly plant is a career as well as a lifestyle, said Livick, a third-generation UAW member working for GM. “When you take that away and you take away that sense of certainty and that sense of job security, that can do a lot to a person,” he said.

Workers recognize why GM has prioritized pickup and SUV plants, but that understanding doesn’t necessarily soften the blow.

“That’s 100 percent of why we’ve been off for so long,” Livick said. “All of us workers are more than ready to get a product.”

But before Fairfax workers can build anything, GM needs to secure enough chips to make it worth turning the lights back on.

Until then, they wait.

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