DETROIT – More than 3,600 hourly workers at Mack Trucks Inc., in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania went on strike at six plants at 11:59 p.m. Saturday seeking “fair pay and benefits," the UAW confirmed early Sunday.
“UAW members get up every day and put in long, hard hours of work from designing to building Mack trucks,” Ray Curry, secretary-treasurer of the UAW and director of the Heavy Truck Department, said in a prepared statement. “UAW members carry on their shoulders the profits of Mack and they are simply asking for dignity, fair pay and job protections.”
This strike comes in the middle of a national strike of 46,000 UAW members striking General Motors in 10 states and 55 locations. The GM strike, which began Sept. 16, has dragged on so long that Wall Street has suggested it could harm the automaker's credit rating if not resolved soon. Talks in Detroit after four weeks of picketing are said to be making progress.
The UAW also called a strike of 850 maintenance workers employed by Aramark at five GM sites in Michigan and Ohio. That strike started 24 hours before autoworkers went out.
All UAW strikers now qualify for $275 a week strike pay from the UAW, up from $250 a week ago. The Detroit-based union started the strike on GM with about $800 million in the strike fund and notes there's plenty of money to sustain workers for the long haul.
At Mack Trucks, now a subsidiary of the Swedish multinational AB Volvo, the union said "unresolved issues include wage increases, job security, COLA, wage progression, skilled trades, shift premium, holiday schedules, work schedules, health and safety, seniority, pension, 401(k), health care and prescription drug coverage, overtime, subcontracting and temporary and supplemental workers."
While Curry said he's confident in quick progress toward a new contract, "the fact remains that our members are united in standing together to strike until Mack agrees to resolve these significant issues.”
Mack Trucks President Martin Weissburg issued a statement saying the company is "surprised and disappointed that the UAW decided to strike, rather than to allow our employees to keep building trucks and engines while the parties continued to negotiate. The positive working relationship between local UAW leadership and management at our facilities was clearly in evidence throughout the negotiations, and progress was being made."
Organizing companies outside Detroit, especially international auto companies and battery makers, is essential to growth and strength of the UAW, said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University who specializes in labor management. "That's where the future of the UAW really lies."
He noted, "One-third of the autoworkers in the U.S. work for these foreign-based companies. That excludes Fiat. But whatever they negotiate in Detroit, the UAW has to package up and sell to workers at nonunion transplants and these other places. If they want to maintain strength with the Detroit Three."
Engaging in multiple strikes illustrates that the UAW is more than capable of moving on several fronts, said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who specializes in labor affairs. "The focus is clearly on GM and the Detroit automakers but that doesn't mean the UAW is walking away from what it obviously perceives as critical issues at Volvo."
This strategy, he said, "really reinforces on a certain level that the UAW remains a powerful institution with a strong reach."
More broadly, it appears strikes have returned as an effective strategy for workers, analysts said.
"It is the tool of last resort for sure, but we’ve seen an upsurge in strikes in recent years," Shaiken said. "Workers have the confidence. From West Virginia to New England, we're seeing more strikes. And the public perception is ... if they win this, maybe I'll get it, too, down the road. Their victory could help me."
Walking the picket line
Mack Truck has plants in Allentown, Pennsylvania; Middletown, Pennsylvania; Hagerstown, Maryland; Baltimore, Maryland; and Jacksonville, Florida.
“The last four years we have helped Mack Truck make significant profit through our work,” Doug Irvine, president of Local 2301 and president of the Mack Truck Council, said in a prepared statement. “All we are asking is that the company treat us with the dignity and respect we deserve in making them successful.”
The company, which has offices in Greensboro, North Carolina, said in its statement: "Mack Trucks is part of the only heavy-truck manufacturing group that assembles all of its trucks and engines for the North American market here in the United States, and continues to compete against products built in lower-cost countries. We have no plans to close any U.S. manufacturing; on the contrary, we’ve invested more than $400 million in our plants and logistics network over the last 10 years, and since 2015 have insourced work that has created more than 500 jobs in our U.S. factories. We have significant new investments in both facilities and products on the way."
Weissburg said, "We are committed to the collective bargaining process, and remain confident that we will be able to arrive at an agreement that provides a competitive wage and benefit package for our employees and families, and helps to ensure the company’s competitiveness.”
Follow Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.