How “Sweat” Hits Home

by Morgan Listenbee, 2nd year BA in Theatre

Lynn Nottage’s Sweat  tells the story of a group of friends who have worked together, laughed together, and drank together. However, when layoffs and picket lines occur, they realize they are now competing with one another and face the cruel reality when lines are crossed.  

My goal for this blog is to offer a learning experience, not only for me, but for you as well. I want you to gain a better understanding about unions in our city and I also want you to have a better understanding of  Sweat and how its story relates to Detroit. According to unionplus.org, a union is an organization of workers dedicated to protecting members’ interests and improving wages, hours and working conditions for all. Additionally, unions not only affect the city, it affects the people, the environment, society, culture, and economics.   

I am personally impacted by unions. Both of my parents work for Ford Motor Company. They are members of UAW Local 228 at the factory plant in Sterling Heights. To better understand unions, their purpose, and how they benefit or disadvantage members, I interviewed my mother. 

Morgan Pictured With Her Mother
Morgan Pictured With Her Mother

Q: What made you want to join the union? What is the purpose of your union? What does your union do for the city of Sterling Heights and how does being part of the Union make your work life better?  

A: “I was young, and I didn’t take school seriously. I went to Macomb Community College for a little bit. My cousin called and asked me to go to a testing for Ford Motor Company. I didn’t know how good of a job it would be. It changed my life. The purpose of my union is: justice for all hardworking families; negotiate pay, medical, and pension; made to serve us; and protect our jobs. Ford creates a lot of jobs and businesses. It allows for people to have great job opportunities. Ford is not an easy place to work at. However, I can go home safe knowing that my job is protected. Because if you work at a non-union company, they can get rid of you at any time.”  

Q: Is there any criticism or backlash you receive because you’re a part of the union? If so, why? Also, what are the advantages and disadvantages of having a high amount of Seniority?  

A: “Majority of us don’t have a college education, so a lot of people think we’re overpaid. Also, I can’t wear UAW gear at certain public places due to not supporting unions. There aren’t any disadvantages. The advantages are the following: you can pick your jobs; if a layoff happens, they would lay off people that have less time working than me who has a lot of time. For instance, I have a higher end date, which means I’ve worked here since 1999. If someone was hired in 2011, they would pick me to stay and let the other person go.”   

Q: Is the Union you work for any different from when you first started? What has joining a Union taught you? Has there been any recent strikes? If so, have you participated in them?   

A: “Yes, the new people in office aren’t as strong as they used to be. They’re more into pleasing management and the upper authority rather than the people. Personally, I think this is why a lot of strikes happen, along with contract issues. Ford Motor Company has taught me how to make a good living for my family and has given me great opportunities. No, I have not participated in a strike before, but I know many of my coworkers have for other unions and people who have participated in strikes for their own unions. However, there hasn’t been a strike at Ford since 1945.”   

I hope this interview with my mother, a hard-working union member, expanded your knowledge on the topic of how relevant these issues for unions are today.  Sweat  by Lynn Nottage runs from November 1-17, 2019 at the Hilberry Theatre. Get your tickets now at www.theatreanddanceatwayne.com/sweat/. You don’t want to miss this!  

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