Machinists in Iowa strike in struggle over wages, respect

By Dan Fein
March 7, 2022

DAVENPORT, Iowa — “It’s a wonderful feeling to be in a room with 242 union members and 98% vote to go on strike and reject the company’s ‘first, last, best and final offer,’” striker Scott Lang told this Militant worker-correspondent on the International Association of Machinists union picket line here Feb. 20. He was describing how the members of IAM Local 388 and Local 1191 voted three days before to go out on strike against Eaton Corporation.

Eaton is a defense and aerospace manufacturing company with military contracts, making equipment like air-to-air refueling systems. Many of the jobs take months of training. There are more than 360 hourly workers at Eaton’s Cobham Mission Systems facility here, 269 of them IAM members. Iowa is a “right-to-work state,” meaning state law bars unions from establishing a closed shop, so workers are not automatically in the union. Some of the nonunion hourly workers here have joined the strike.

“The company’s offer included higher deductibles for medical coverage, a 2.5% raise the first year of the three-year contract, and 3% the next two years. I have two kids. We need raises to at least keep up with inflation,” said solder assembler Shawn Marshall.

“They want to eliminate overtime pay for more than eight hours. They want to be able to tap you on your shoulder and say you have to stay another four hours overtime. This would be devastating for family life and obligations. The local news media sugarcoats the company’s offer. The last strike here was in 1966, so for many of us this is our first strike.”

“Prices are rising every day and the company’s proposals are not near enough,” said striker Chris Fox. “They also want to cut how much they match on the 401(k) plan from 10% to 6%.”

While the Cobham plant has been running for decades, it was bought by Eaton a year ago for $2.8 billion. Eaton is a conglomerate with 87,000 workers worldwide.

Eaton bosses told the media they were “surprised” when the union workers went on strike, and they “encourage any employee who wishes to report to work to do so.”

The Quad Cities area — Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois — is a manufacturing center, including 6,000 United Auto Workers members at John Deere, who were themselves on strike last fall. Other big manufacturers include the U.S. Army’s Rock Island Arsenal, which makes weaponry and other military equipment; Hon office furniture; and a number of sizable food-processing plants.

Striker Lucie Workman is a member of the women’s committee of Local 388. She described the solidarity the strike has received. “UAW members from John Deere drop off pizzas for us. Other unions have brought water and snacks. Tomorrow is a big day for us when many other unions are going to join us for an expanded picket line.

“Eaton made billions in profits last year. You’d think they could share some of it with us,” she said. “But no — they’re greedy.”

Two John Deere UAW members were walking the picket line while I was there. One woman drove up and invited strikers to come to a free spaghetti dinner at her church on Feb. 26.

“We hope that the company will hear our call for respect and dignity from the picket line,” IAM District 6 Business Representative John Herrig said in a statement to the press.

For information on how you can join in the picketing and support the strike, call IAM Local 388 at (563) 383-6289.