By Ali Montag
CHICAGO HEIGHTS, United States – Last week marked a milestone for both Ford Motor Company and the Chicago Stamping Plant (CSP). On Tuesday, June 21 the plant held a surprise celebration for its veteran electrician, Harold Michalak who is celebrating his 60th year of working for the company. Hourly co-workers, plant management and Ford/UAW retirees gathered in the Training Center of the CSP in honor of Michalak – sharing stories and achievement awards over cake and coffee.
At the age of 85, Michalak still works six days a week and walks the facility regularly toting his trusty homemade toolbox (a yellow painted cardboard box reinforced with duct tape) without complaint, "I have no complaints about Ford. They took care of me. I can't ask for a better place to work." Co-workers describe Michalak as a hardworking guy who comes to work early and is one of the last to leave at the end of his shift. "He's sharp as a tack," said Howard Simon, a Manhattan resident and Ford employee of 35 years, of Michalak. "He's got to know every nut and bolt in this plant." Simon went on to say, "There's nobody in this plant that doesn't know Harold. He is truly a respected and well-liked employee."
Ford has approximately 41,000 UAW-represented hourly workers. Of those 41,000 only 17 employees have more that 50 years of service. Michalak is the only one with 60 years of service. Interestingly, of the 17 employees with more that 50 years of tenure, four of them work at the CSP. Bill Jackson, president of Local UAW #588 noted that Michalak is special because he has the most seniority of the nearly 900 employees at the CSP and of all UAW members working for Ford in North America. "You would never know that he's 85," Jackson said. "He is value added. There is no doubt about it."
Michalak was hired by Ford on June 23, 1951 at an aircraft engine manufacturing site Ford owned on the Southwest side of Chicago. Today, the site is home of the Ford City Mall, where you can still see the concrete towers where the engines were tested prior to being placed into fighter planes during the Korean War. "We were working on [propeller] engines, then later it was jet engines," Michalak explained. When the engine plant closed, Michalak stayed on with Ford relocating to the then newly built CAP where body panels and parts are made for Ford vehicles across the world. Prior to working at Ford, Michalak learned his trade while serving in the infantry of the U.S. Army during World War II and then working for the Santa Fe Railroad before joining Ford in June 1951.
CSP Plant Manager Gloria Georger described Michalak's dedication as "honorable." During her presentation honoring Michalak, she joked about how many things had changed in the U.S. since Michalak started at Ford, "The average vehicle price was $1,800, a gallon of gas cost $0.27 and the minimum wage rate was $0.75 per hour." Georger also presented a personalized video message to Michalak from Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally congratulating him on his milestone noting, "Harold, you and Ford and Chicago Stamping ROCK!"