UAW Volvo truck workers vote bosses’ contract down by 91%

By Arlene Rubinstein
June 7, 2021

DUBLIN, Va. — Some 2,900 members of United Auto Workers Local 2069 voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed tentative agreement with Volvo Truck North America’s New River Valley Plant bosses. The vote was 91% against Volvo’s offer as a whole, and 83% against their wage proposal. After a 13-day strike, pickets had been taken down on April 30, but the fight for a contract continues. Back at work, workers are debating a new six-year contract, which will be voted on June 6. As of May 26 they’ve only seen a summary.

“I liked being on the picket line, it was the most fun ever. We got to know each other. We don’t want to be divided,” Kari Warren, who has worked here for three years as an absentee replacement worker covering unfilled shifts, told the Militant. “We have a union, we have to use it.”

“We got solidarity from the Mack Truck plant in Hagerstown, Maryland, and some of the union truckers drove into the plant here and then drove back out,” she said. The Sweden-based Volvo Group also owns Mack Trucks. In 2019 more than 3,600 autoworkers went on strike against Mack, and Volvo workers joined their picket lines.

Knocking on doors here to talk to workers and build solidarity with the Volvo fight, some workers told Militant  worker-correspondents that they are following the union’s efforts. Many have been discussing the issues with friends, neighbors and relatives who work at or retired from the 1.6 million square foot plant — Volvo’s largest truck manufacturing facility in the world.

“When a trucker wanted a lift to the plant, I said, ‘No,’ I won’t cross the picket line,” said Michele Chewning, a former textile worker who now works at the breakfast bar in a local hotel. “I might not have personally worked there, but I know how hard they work. Like any union fight, they need support. Volvo’s not broke, the workers deserve what they need.”

The unionists feel like they have a lot of leverage. Volvo has made record profits off truck sales over the last few years. Its profits rose by 89% to $1 billion in the first quarter of 2021. Sales are surging so fast that Volvo bosses say they can’t keep up with orders. The plant is in the midst of $400 million in advanced technology upgrades and site expansion to prepare for future products, including the new Volvo VNR electric truck.

The plant has added 1,100 jobs since the last union contract was adopted in 2016, and is on track for more hiring to fill approximately 600 new positions in 2021. Under that contract, which set a series of different wage tiers, new hires make $16.77.

In addition to the wages and tiers, another major issue is standing up for the retirees.

“It’s even more important for those who aren’t there to have someone to stand up for them. Workers get forced out, when their bodies can’t handle the stress of work,” said Kari Warren. “We fight for retirees. We are their voices now.”