Volvo Truck workers strike over wages, divisive two-tier

Workers reject bosses’ offer, go back on picket line

By Arlene Rubinstein
June 28, 2021
Picket at Volvo truck factory in Dublin, Virginia, June 13. UAW members had ended strike April 30, then rejected boss proposals twice by 90%. They went back out on strike June 7.
Militant/Tony LanePicket at Volvo truck factory in Dublin, Virginia, June 13. UAW members had ended strike April 30, then rejected boss proposals twice by 90%. They went back out on strike June 7.

DUBLIN, Va. — Some 2,900 United Auto Workers Local 2069 members entered their second week back on strike at Volvo Truck, fighting for higher wages and against bosses’ demands for divisive concessions.

Since a 13-day strike at Volvo’s New River Valley plant here came to an end April 30, union members twice voted down proposed contracts by 90%. Workers went back on strike June 7. Volvo responded by cutting off the strikers’ health insurance the next day.

The union organizes around-the-clock picket duty at five gates, spirited and loud. Many passersby honk and give the thumbs-up.

A key issue in the strike is workers’ desire to get rid of the multiple wage tiers that the company uses to keep workers divided and drive down wages. Under the current contract, new hires make $16.77 an hour while a “core group” of workers with the most years in the plant make $27.47.

“My son is a new hire, with 2½ years in the plant. Under the tentative agreement, he will never make top pay,” Vicky White, with seven years at Volvo, told the Militant. “I’m fighting for my friends in the ‘core group’ and my husband who is a retiree. I’m fighting for everyone.”

Debra Orren, with 17 years, said she lost $7 an hour under the 2008 contract. “I was laid off for several years and it took until the end of the 2016 contract to get the money back.”

In addition to fighting divisive pay tiers, the union is defending gains it had won over decades. Bosses are pushing for four 10-hour shifts with no overtime premium. Previously workers were paid overtime rates after eight hours. Bosses also want to award job bids based on “recent experience” — meaning at the company’s whim — instead of seniority, and increase the amount of work that is contracted out to other companies, where workers get different pay and conditions.

The company didn’t return a call from the Militant asking for its stance on the strike.

This worker-correspondent met Carolyn Durham and other UAW Local 2069 members in the kitchen at the union hall where they were preparing lunch for the picket shift change.

Several were part of a group of women who fought their way into the plant in 1993. “There was a class-action suit that won. We heard about it and said ‘Great!’ Many of us were single mothers. Well, we liked our independence. We stuck around,” Durham said. She has 28 years at the New River Valley plant and now does final checks before trucks are test driven.

Women workers strengthen union

With the 1,100 new jobs at the plant since the last union contract was adopted in 2016, workers estimate the plant is now 40% female. Women and men working together on the job and in this contract fight strengthens the union.

“My retirement will be $1,200 a month, but I’ll end up with only $300, because insurance payments for two people amount to $900 each month,” Durham said. “The strikes going on today are important,” she added when she saw a Militant article about the strike by Alabama coal miners at Warrior Met. “Our fight helps the mineworkers.”

The Volvo strike takes place as bosses are expanding the plant, budgeting $400 million for technology upgrades and other preparations for building electric-powered trucks — a hot-selling item in the trucking industry.

According to FTR Intel quarterly outlook, the forecast for demand of trucks and trailers is “record-breaking,” despite current parts shortages. From 20% to 40% of auto components are being delivered late or in insufficient quantities.

Volvo resumed negotiations June 15. Matt Blondino, president of the local, told the Southwest Times that the union will remain on strike until an agreement is reached and until it’s ratified by union members. “Going forward we will not be coming off the line until that is done, so whatever that takes, we will be there.”

Glova Scott and this worker-correspondent brought $41 for the strikers and 15 signatures on a solidarity card from workers at the Walmart where we work. Strikers on the picket line and at the union hall appreciated the support. Send solidarity messages to UAW Local 2069, P.O. Box 306, Dublin, VA 24084 or