The revival of the Stellantis plant is a stunning reversal of fortunes for Belvidere, Ill. But workers say they won’t rest until they see the concrete being poured.

by Sarah Lazare, Workday Magazine

It’s been almost five months since JC Bengtson, an autoworker for 24 years, lost his job. “I miss working,” says the 55-year-old father of three daughters, all adults. “Right now I am unemployed and waiting to hear back.”

We are sitting in the union hall of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1268, in Belvidere, Ill., not far from the sprawling Belvidere Assembly Plant. Bengtson worked there for 10 years before he was officially laid off in September 2023, right before his union went on strike. The auto giant Stellantis announced in December 2022 that it would permanently idle the facility that assembled the widely popular Jeep Cherokee, and by February 2023, the majority of jobs at the plant had disappeared. The company put 1,350 people out of work, though the total number of people impacted since cuts first started is far greater. Among them was Bengtson, who was part of a later round of layoffs.

workers on the assembly line at a stellantis plant

The closure was devastating to Belvidere, a small town of 25,000 residents built around the Kishwaukee River in northern Illinois. Several restaurants and a grocery store near the plant have already closed, and workers, many of whom had families in the local schools, had grown up in the town, or had moved there for their positions, found themselves out of work, and staring at the possibility of being uprooted. The company’s willingness to walk away from a plant, and a town, where it had operated since 1965 became a symbol of corporate callousness during the UAW’s fall 2023 Stand-Up Strike against the Big Three automakers—Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. It was a source of outrage on picket lines and at rallies.

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