Local 685’s new home is more than a building
When former U.S. President Bill Clinton recently swung through Kokomo, Indiana, on a campaign stop in advance of the state’s primary election, he was greeted by a full house at UAW Local 685.
Among the nearly 800 people from the community who filled the hall were babies, retirees, young parents, grandparents, and many active and retired UAW members.
There were flags and banners on the walls, a lot of giggles and smiles, plates full of pancakes and selfies at every table.
Just as special as a good pancake breakfast paired with being able to greet the 42nd U.S. president in person in this great hall, was the fact that there was a union hall, period. Just two years ago, a devastating tornado and its high winds and rain left the facility crumbled, splintered and contents blown all over.
“We have come a long way since then,” said Carl Greenwood, Local 685 president. “It’s good to have our new hall, but it is more significant in what it represents.”
UAW Local 685 is home to about 6,800 Region 2B members who work for FCA US at either Kokomo Transmission, Indiana Transmission I and II, or Tipton Transmission plants. Just as the local was the venue selected by the Howard County Democratic Party for the group’s annual pancake breakfast that doubled as a presidential campaign stop, it is also a place where veterans and retirees gather, where couples are married, families celebrate and community events help raise money for area nonprofit organizations.
“We are kind of a pillar in the community because we have a large presence and because in the old and new building people know that we have a nice facility with reasonable fees,” said UAW member Jerry Price, also the local’s vice president. “I don’t know what Kokomo would be without FCA and Local 685.”
The commitment to community goes both ways, said Price, a UAW member for 44 years. “We have a membership that is very active in the community and I think the community understands that and responds to that.”
On Sunday, Nov. 17, 2014, about an hour after Price left the hall, a tornado ripped through. The sturdy brick structure was destroyed as powerful winds whipped a large metal recycling bin through the front of the building.
“The wind just picked that thing up and used it like a wrecking ball. The roof fell in and the other walls just crumbled,” said Greenwood. Debris was tossed and blown all over. The building was a total loss. Members salvaged what they could, including old photos and memorabilia dating back to the local’s founding that, thankfully, escaped damage.
Two days after the storm, members gathered to remove as much debris as they could. “All of a sudden, it was like in a movie. High school students started showing up,” Price said. He estimated that 150 high school students pitched in and helped UAW members salvage what they could from the building and the parking lot.
UAW members broke ground for the new building June 2015 and opened doors to the new facility a year later with union and community events scheduled regularly at the hall.
“The members of Local 685 are keenly focused on the community and how this local union hall is an integrated part of that,” said UAW Region 2B Director Ken Lortz. “It makes a difference for members and the community and it creates a lot of opportunities for everyone to come together for all kinds of events and all types of issues.”
Although the hall is frequently rented out, members use it, too.
Retirees of all ages, including those in their 90s and older, have monthly dinners at the hall and an annual Christmas dinner. The retirees are there regularly to reflect on old times and to play a good game of pool with some showing their sharpness in competitive pool tournaments.
Members and their families use the gym and the weight facility or walk off a few pounds hitting the track.
“We have tried to make it a place where you can have your grievance heard and have a good time, too. We want this place to be a beacon for our members, their families and the community,” said Greenwood.