CHICAGO — Nearly 17,000 striking auto workers have left the picket lines after the tentative deal was reached with Ford Motor Company.

The United Auto Workers union said Wednesday it agreed to terms with the Detroit automaker, ending the nearly 6-week-old strike.

On Chicago’s East Side, Local 551 union members celebrated the victory.

“There was a big sigh of relief last night and a lot of celebration,” said UAW Local 551 president Chris Pena.

Ford was the first of Detroit’s big three (General Motors and Stellantis) automakers to negotiate a settlement after thousands of workers walked off the job in mid-September. Locally impacted was the plant in Hegewisch where workers striked for 27 days.

Local 551 union member Scott Houldieson said picketers were fighting for their future.

The four-year deal still has to be approved by 57,000 UAW leadership and union members at the company, but Local 551 representatives said the union won major concessions during negotiations.

“Cost of living allowance was gained back, it looks like our wages are increasing by 25%,” Pena said “Pensions that were talked about that were gained.”

Added Local 551 vice president Jason Wachowski: “This is monumental. We just eliminated that wage tier. Everyone is getting a good raise.”

Still, Wachowski said that the agreement would be null and void if it didn’t include electric vehicle plant workers.

“If we don’t get the commitment for the EVs, our future is basically shot,” he said. “We’re just bargaining for the next few years here and nothing in the future.”

In response to the Ford strike ending, General Motors said, in part, “We are working constructively with the UAW to reach a tentative agreement as soon as possible.” 

“We remain committed to working toward a tentative agreement that gets everyone back to work as soon as possible,” Stellantis added.

Pena hopes that all strikes will soon be resolved with all terms met.

“As Ford goes back to building cars, we’re hoping GM and Stellantis get the message and puts pressure on them to come to the bargaining table a lot quicker and reach a tentative agreement a lot faster,” he said.

In the interim, union representatives said they would be supporting their union brothers and sisters by standing in solidarity on the picket and assembly lines. 

“We could’ve settled a long time ago if they would have invested in the people who make these million-dollar profits,” Pena said.