Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Food, Fellowship and Fun

September 5, 2023
UAW Field Day activity with participants

Attention-drawing antics and fun, friendly games have long been a part of the summer picnics attended annually by the thousands of members who make us the UAW's Local 600. / Photo Credit: Photo of UAW Field Day 1948 courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

When you’re observing the Dearborn Truck Plant’s final assembly line during the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, you’re watching a set of skilled operators put finishing touches on all-new Ford F-150s — one is built at the plant every 53 seconds. Those workers are part of UAW Local 600, a unit that’s some 5,000 members strong representing employees from the truck plant, its body shop and paint shop — an electric vehicle center has recently been added too — within the Ford Rouge Complex.

Each year, the plant’s UAW family, along with hundreds of other UAW chapters representing some 400,000 active members across the country, gather together at annual picnics to celebrate their camaraderie, work ethic and leadership role in the fight to secure economic and social justice for all.

It’s a tradition that reaches back to the UAW’s beginnings in 1935, possibly a community-building practice and symbol of solidarity adopted from other social organizations and labor unions of the time.

Today the UAW picnic often resembles a traditional outing — held at a local park with barbecues, corn hole tournaments, tug-o-war competitions, face painting for kids and other family-centric activities. Some local units go to the next level, planning their annual events at large-scale locations like a Six Flags amusement park, while other UAW families, like the Dearborn Truck Plant’s, have reimagined their annual picnic to patronize local businesses.

“For the last six or seven years, before the pandemic, we’ve been hosting our picnic at Midway Sports and Entertainment in Taylor,” said Nick Kottalis, UAW president and chairman at the truck plant. Midway Sports and Entertainment has been serving southeast Michigan with family entertainment for 60 years, offering outdoor go-karts, mini-golf, a bungee jumping dome, rock climbing, golf driving range and more.

“It has been a huge hit, creating lots of excitement, especially with the kids who love everything from the batting cages and go-karts to the putt-putt,” said Kottalis, who has watched attendance at the annual picnic reach upwards of 2,500 in recent years.

The workers had long enjoyed a more traditional annual picnic under park pavilions at Lower Huron Metropark in Belleville. Now Kottalis books the Midway sports complex for an entire Sunday in August or September, giving his truck plant family exclusive use of all the amenities for the day. Along with the sports activities, attendees also enjoy classic concession foods, including hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and ice cream.

The food and fun are supporting characters in a larger story, shared Kottalis, who describes the real meaning and purpose behind the UAW picnic: “It’s about fellowship, community.”

Well put.

Jennifer Laforce is managing editor of The Henry Ford Magazine

This post was adapted from an article in the Summer-Fall 2023 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.