BY RAY PARSONS
EAST MOLINE, Illinois - United Auto Workers (UAW) members at Case Corp. went on strike for a short time April 23. In less than two hours, a tentative agreement was announced and the picket lines were brought down at plants in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.
The 3,300 unionists have been working with out a contract since March 29.
Details of the pact were not released. UAW officials reported that negotiations over local issues are continuing in Milwaukee, and ratification votes are to be held later in the week.
Workers were prepared for the strike. In East Moline, the Local 1304 union hall was packed for update meetings April 23, hours before the 10:30 p.m. strike deadline set by the UAW. Candy Hurst, who has worked at Case for one year, said, "We don't want to strike but we don't want to work without a contract, either. We have to force the company's hand."
Don Summers, another Local 1304 member, said, "I'm ready to strike. I can't see them taking away what they want to take away."
Other workers told the Militant that a work slow down since the expiration of the last contract had led to a large backlog of more than 100 combines waiting for parts.
Rodger Davidson, who has worked 27 years at Case, said, "We've got community support - more than we've ever gotten before" all over the city.
Several food service workers employed at the Case plant by the subcontractor Aramark, and also organized by the UAW, stopped by the union hall before the strike to find out what was going on. One said, "They're trying to bust the union here. The company has said they have people waiting to cross the picket line."
Early on in the negotiations Case hired Milwaukee-based Strom Engineering to recruit strike breakers. Ads appeared in newspapers around the Midwest offering jobs to "help temporarily staff a company during a potential work stoppage, caused by a strike."
Union members have not seen the tentative agreement yet. A Local 807 official told the Burlington, Iowa, Hawk Eye that the negotiations had stalled over changes to the piece- work pay system used at Case. The company has sought a six- year contract, cuts in retirement benefits, increased mandatory overtime, and a deeper two-tier wage scale, keeping newly hired workers at lower pay for five years. Currently new workers start at 70 percent of regular wage rates, and reach wage parity in three years.
Some unionists were disappointed at going back so soon. "We should have stayed out longer and put more pressure on the company," said William Baker, a machine operator at the East Moline plant. "They have an order from Russia for 500 combines here, waiting to get out. Even two or three days on strike would hurt Case bad. They needed to come out with a definite offer before going back."
Case is an international producer of construction and agricultural equipment. In 1997 the company made $403 million profit on revenues of $6 billion.
Ray Parsons is a member of United Steelworkers of
America Local 310 in Des Moines, Iowa.
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