At midnight Sept. 16, more than 46,000 UAW members walked off the job in a national strike against General Motors. The effects of the 40-day walkout rippled through the industry and community, including Detroit Cristo Rey High School.
The union strike began while GM and UAW leaders negotiated a four-year labor contract. The two sides bargained over a variety of issues, including pay, healthcare benefits and the proposed closures of four U.S. plants.
The strike, which ended Oct. 25, caused problems for other workers outside of the plants as well, in particular GM’s student workers from Detroit Cristo Rey High School.
GM is one of several Detroit-area companies that participate in the school's work-study program. Each student works once a week, and students' salaries from the work-study program (about $7,500 each), help fund the school.
On the day the strike began, GM students received a text message noting possible safety concerns for students who worked at the Warren Tech Center and neighboring Cadillac Tower. That week no students were sent to their work sites at both locations on the authority of the Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Program.
In the following weeks, students who work inside the GM Global Tech Center weren’t allowed to come to work, but instead stayed at the school’s media center doing homework or helping out with an odd job or two. Despite the strike, some students were still directed to work at their job sites that were either moved out of the tech center or were outside of it to begin with.
Cristo Rey senior Christopher Alejandre was one of the few student workers who had been allowed to return the following week at his job site outside the tech center.
“When I came back I couldn’t enter my old offices so we had to change buildings,” said Alejandre.
Students worried the strike would negatively impact them in another way: their futures. The timing of the strike could not have been any worse for a lot of students. Just a few weeks earlier, many of them had begun their new jobs at GM for the year.
Cecilia Rodriguez, a senior who has worked at GM job sites all four years of high school and works inside the GTC, was disappointed in the delay of her work study position.
“The first few weeks are when your boss or colleagues get impressions of us,” she said. “Previously Cristo Rey students have been recruited after high school [by GM], and I’m nervous I’ve missed my opportunity to leave an impression.”
Many students agree with Rodriguez that the strike has negatively affected their relationships with their coworkers and has also caused them to miss out on an important job experience that could help prepare them for a possible future career at GM.
The GM strike has complicated the jobs of many student workers by disrupting their normal routines and schedules, creating safety concerns, and diminishing the hope of a GM employment opportunity after graduation.