Union front: ‘Rosies’ Post a Record

    

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Of course they can do it! The new record for the number of ‘Rosies’ in one spot is now 3,755, easily surpassing the old record by 1,526 Rosies.

Thousands Gather to Honor Women Who Helped Win the War

A young Rosie gets ready to help break a world record.

Tonya Rincon, a member of UAW Local 900 at Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Assembly Plant, knows how much she is in debt to Rosie the Riveter. Without Rosie paving the way for her and other women back in World War II, she doesn’t know if she would have had the opportunity to join the skilled trades and make a decent living on her own.

The iconic Rosie the Riveters were so named because she represented the thousands of women who filled in on the production line at Ford’s Willow Run plant and elsewhere during the war, freeing up men for the front lines and proving that they could handle any job that a man could. The Willow Run plant, located between Ypsilanti and Belleville, Michigan, was converted from an automotive assembly plant to an aircraft manufacturing facility, churning out B-24 Liberator bombers that helped win the war.

“If it wasn’t for Rosies paving the way, I wouldn’t be an industrial electrician today,” said Rincon, who was wearing the traditional Rosie outfit of a polka dot bandana and blue work overalls. “If you don’t know where you’ve come from and who broke down those barriers, you don’t have an appreciation for the opportunities that we have now.”

That’s why thousands of women in Michigan and elsewhere took notice when a group of Rosies in California beat their world record last year for the number of Rosies gathered in one spot. The Willow Run plant had such a rich, historic connection to the Rosies that there was only one possible response:

Challenge accepted.

The UAW was well represented as many members from Region 1A traveled to Eastern Michigan University to participate in the event.

They rolled up their sleeves, got ready to don their polka dot bandanas, and then rallied the community and all those who have a love for Rosie and what she represents. UAW Region 1A, which covers southeastern Michigan, including a part of the City of Detroit, co-sponsored the event with UAW-Ford, and many other organizations that partnered with the Yankee Air Museum in trying to set the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of “Rosie the Riveters”.

They met at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, on Oct. 14 with the goal of surpassing California’s record of 2,229, which was 139 more than Willow Run’s record set in 2015. In the sea of blue shirts and overalls and red bandanas with white polka dots, one could feel the sense of belonging. This gathering was to celebrate women who had gone into the workforce in defense plants and factories around the country at a time that was critical to our nation’s success in the war in which we were engulfed.

“It was inspiring to see so many UAW members dressed as ‘Rosies,’ and we are proud of all the women, men and children who participated in the event,” said Region 1A Director Rory Gamble. “The ‘Rosies’ hold such a significant place in our country’s history and also in our union’s history that they deserve to be remembered and honored for their sacrifices and achievements.”

One such “Original Rosie” was Virginia Basler, who worked from 1943-44 at Willow Run when she was 19. Understanding the importance of the war effort, she and her co-workers knew that without them, there was  no one to produce the aircraft and ammunition required for the war.

“If we didn’t do it, they couldn’t do it; we had to go to service,” Basler said. After working those years in the factory, she entered the Coast Guard to continue serving her country.

There were women of all ages, from small babies to the “Original Rosies,” with one at 110 years old. Some families even brought four and five generations of Rosies. Araceli Martin, came to the event with her mom, Gloria, a UAW representative, and her sisters Mariska and Olivia.

“I want to show support for all the Rosies that stepped up while the men were at war,” Araceli Martin said. Mariska, who is also a football player, said it is important to know about Rosie because of what she stands for: “If someone tells you that you can’t do it, you try harder.”

Local 2500’s Bridgette Mayweather was excited to be a part of the event.

“Being able to represent Rosie the Riveter and showing solidarity as a union member helps show that women recognize and understand what we have been through,” Mayweather said, adding that being a part of a union has inspired her to be involved in politics and organizations like Women for Caring Communities.

Local 900’s Rincon agrees, and she, too, has become involved in many political issues.

“Even if you are not a union member, you have benefitted from the strength of the unions,” Rincon said.

Inside the convocation center, the air was electric after speeches by U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo and Superior Township Treasurer Brenda McKinney. There were Rosies from over 18 states spanning from California to New York with 55 “Original Rosies” in attendance. The anticipation of setting the new record was building with every passing second and every speaker.

Can we do it, they wondered?

It was announced to thunderous applause that the Willow Run Rosies posted a new world record of 3,755 Rosies, surpassing California’s record by 1,526.

Rosie’s spirit of “We can do it!” lives on.

Angie Hendershot
UAW Local 898


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