SITDOWNS IN AUTO
In 1913 the Ford Motor Company built an auto assembly plant in Kansas City, its first outside the Detroit area. Twin brick smokestacks with FORD in white on the sides still stand, and the main assembly building is still used by other businesses.
Employment at the plant rose from 700 in 1915 to nearly 3,200 in October 1937. In response to the fast pace of the assembly line, harsh working conditions, and no job security, United Auto Workers Local 249 formed in January 1937. In early April of that year, management tried to fire 400 union members. Workers quickly responded by launching a sit-down strike, the first ever against Ford.
Though negotiations led to dramatic improvements in working conditions, Ford still refused to recognize the union and soon a company union was organized.
In October 1937, management announced the plant was closing permanently. The Kansas City Manager went to Detroit to meet with Ford officials. After that, Ford announced it would reopen the plant. The union, however, set up a picket line charging Ford with a lockout of its members. The company union was just one part of Ford's strategy which included disrupting union meetings, raiding union headquarters, and convincing police to arrest several hundred picketers between October and December.
On December 10, 1937, a strike was authorized by the UAW international, and more arrests of pickets occurred. Caravans of scabs were escorted by police, and battles ensued with union members trying to fight for their rights. But the union could not match the power of Ford's Service Department which mobilized thugs, police and sheriff deputies. The local union had filed 1021 Unfair Labor Practices charges against the company and the longest Labor Board trial to that time - 18 months - finally ended in July 1939. But a decision was not handed down until May 1941. The NLRB ordered Ford to rehire all employees who had filed a charge against the company and awarded back pay for all time lost. The total owed Ford workers was $2.5 million. That year Henry Ford finally recognized the UAW.