Strikers: ‘All Mack Truck cares about is profits’

By John Staggs
November 4, 2019
Mack Truck strikers rally in Macungie, Pennsylvania, Oct. 20, part of 3,600 out on strike. “The company just thinks about profits,” said striker Steve Gerhard. “The union is our fraternity.”
Militant/Roy LandersenMack Truck strikers rally in Macungie, Pennsylvania, Oct. 20, part of 3,600 out on strike. “The company just thinks about profits,” said striker Steve Gerhard. “The union is our fraternity.”

MACUNGIE, Penn. — More than 3,600 United Auto Workers members on strike at Mack Truck plants in five cities are standing up to the bosses’ steep concession contract demands. Sweden-based Volvo Group owns Mack.

They went on strike Oct. 13 in the face of Volvo’s demands to expand the hiring of temporary workers at lower pay and benefits than permanent workers get, jack up the cost of health insurance, maintain divisive wage tiers with six years to reach full pay, and other anti-worker demands.

Volvo wants to eliminate a clause in previous contracts that requires the UAW to have a say before the company builds any new factories. Workers here worry the company is talking about building a new plant in California and shifting work there.

Several hundred strikers and family members rallied outside the plant here Oct. 20, the day before UAW Local 677 was set to restart negotiations with the bosses. They were joined by other supporters, including members of the Teamsters union, Communications Workers of America and officials of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council.

Volvo had profits of $1.12 billion in the third-quarter of last year, nearly $100 million more than the same period the year before. But sales this year are running way behind 2018, as trucking slows down along with the capitalist economy.

Steve Gerhard, a 22-year veteran at the plant, told the Militant during the rally, “The company just thinks about profits. The union is our fraternity and we need to keep people informed about the real issues.”

Jake Schantzenbach has worked on the assembly line for five years. “I didn’t have to go through the six-year progression to get full pay, but the new hires now get a 1% raise each year for the first five years and then the big jump to full pay the sixth year. That needs to change,” he said. “Getting ready for this contract fight has gotten everyone working together the most I have seen.”

After the rally some workers made the nearly 2-mile walk to bring their kids to visit every picket station, telling me they wanted to raise them in the spirit of standing up for the rights of the working class.

Nine picket tents are stationed at entrances around the massive assembly plant here, the largest of the Mack Truck factories, with some 2,000 workers. Local residents, other area union members and small businesses keep up steady deliveries of coffee, donuts, pizzas and hand warmers for picketers.

Bosses push to keep pay down

Two days before the rally, Volvo Group President and CEO Martin Lundstedt insisted the company is “not ready to compromise.” He said they had to keep costs down, because their major competitors — Daimler, Paccar and Navistar — “have the majority of their production in Mexico,” while “we have 100% of our production for North America in the U.S.”

Trying to increase the pressure on strikers, the company cut off workers’ medical coverage.

“After the first year, you get a raise of just 18 cents,” picket captain Allen Starr told Militant worker-correspondents on a solidarity visit four days earlier. “Besides job security, the pay tiers is the biggest issue for me.”

Besides the Macungie plant, Mack Truck workers are on strike at a Middletown plant that rebuilds older trucks, the big powertrain factory in Hagerstown, Maryland, and facilities in Baltimore and in Jacksonville, Florida.

Candace Wagner in Union City, New Jersey, contributed to this article.

GM workers debate, vote on new contract


BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Some 49,000 United Auto Workers union members have begun voting on the proposed contract union officials negotiated with General Motors after the longest strike since 1970 at the company’s 33 factories and 22 parts warehouses across the country. The picket lines remain up pending the result of the vote, set to be completed by Oct. 25.

The 850 UAW members at Aramark, under contract to perform maintenance and cleaning at five GM plants in Michigan and Ohio, are also voting on a new contract.

The striking workers have won widespread solidarity, because working people see the stakes in their fight for the entire working class. Workers at nonunion auto plants, where the percentage of lower paid temporary workers is even higher than at GM, are watching the strike and vote closely.

And the strikers gained self-confidence. “They didn’t think that we would stay out this long,” Derek Cordell told the Militant on the picket line outside the Corvette plant here. “It shows when we stand together and fight for what we believe in we can win.”

UAW Local 1853 members at GM’s large Spring Hill, Tennessee, plant, with 3,300 workers, voted the contract down 51% to 49% Oct. 21. The day before workers at Saginaw and Warren, Michigan, facilities, with some 1,800 UAW members, voted overwhelmingly in favor.

There is a real debate among workers over the contract. They went on strike Sept. 16 after GM bosses demanded expanding the number of temporary workers — over 7% of the GM workforce who make half the wages of permanent workers — keeping a divisive eight-year-long two-tier wage “progression” for regular workers, closing four plants, and other attacks.

The auto barons claimed they need to save money on labor costs to compete with GM’s nonunion rivals. Some 56% of auto assembly plants in the U.S. — primarily Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Volkswagen — are nonunion.

Workers fought to make temporary workers permanent, an end to two-tier wages, and guarantees of “job security.”

GM withdrew its demand to jack up the cost of health insurance before the strike began. In the tentative deal, GM also dropped some of its steepest concession demands. Full-time temporary workers would be made permanent after three years of continuous work, and regular workers, who start out at half the wages of those hired prior to 2009, would make top rate in four years instead of eight. But union officials agreed to let the bosses shutter three of the four plants slated to be closed.

For this reason, leaders of the UAW in Lordstown, Ohio, which is closed, are calling for a no vote.

Mike Yakim, a UAW member at GM’s Landing Delta Township, Michigan, plant, told the Detroit Free Press that he is skeptical of the proposed deal for temporary workers. “What’s to say they run you two years and six months and lay you off for 31 days?” he said. “Then the seniority is broken and you’re back to square one. I don’t trust General Motors.”

John Ryan Bishop, a worker at the Flint assembly plant, told the Free Press, “Overall, I do think it’s a pretty good deal especially on the in-progression workers [permanent workers on a lower pay tier]. We’re staying above inflation in terms of our wage gains.”

Militant worker-correspondents met Kenneth Matczak, who works on the Corvette assembly line, while going door to door in Bowling Green Oct. 18. “I’m going to vote against the contract proposal,” he said. “Three years for temps to become full employees isn’t right.  The whole point of the strike is to eliminate that separation between us.”