3/13/08

UAW-Volvo strikers distrust pact details

A day after Volvo Trucks North America announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers on a new three-year contract, Wendell Allison and more than two dozen of his union peers continued to picket outside the Dublin truck plant. "I think we have to stay out here until we get what we want," said Allison, noting that UAW Local 2069 members had yet to learn the details of the proposed contract. "If it ain't good, we'll just stay out here until we get what we want."

Tim Barnes, vice president of UAW Local 2069, said the union planned to hold two informational meetings about the agreement Saturday in New River Community College's Edwards Hall.

Following presentations from the union's bargaining committee, Barnes said members could return to the UAW Local 2069 union hall between 1 and 8 p.m. Saturday to vote on whether to ratify the contract.

If the agreement is ratified, Barnes said it could be just a couple of days before the union's roughly 2,600 members left the picket line and returned to work.

That's welcome news for strikers such as Maria Dobbs, a Pulaski mother who has started to feel the financial pinch.

"$200 a week strike pay is not enough," Dobbs said about three hours into her four-hour shift on strike duty.

"I have kids I need to support and it's hard ... everybody's ready to go back."

Mike Hopkins, a truck repairman who has worked at Volvo for nine years, agreed.

"All any of us want is to work in a safe environment and build the best trucks we can," he said. "None of us wanted this strike, but we were able to stand up together for what we believe in."

UAW Local 2069 went on strike Feb. 1, idling for more than three weeks one of the region's largest employers and Volvo's only heavy-duty truck plant in North America.

In an early letter detailing the union's reasons for striking, UAW Local 2069 President Lester Hancock said members were upset by "unreasonable proposals that would erode the wages and benefits that we've fought so many years to achieve and protect."

Throughout the strike, union members have also said Volvo was looking to dismantle recall rights and health and safety protections.

Volvo, however, has denied assertions regarding recall rights and health and safety issues and expressed confusion about the union's decision to strike.

Barnes said Wednesday that he could not give any details about how disagreements between Volvo and the union had been resolved, or about the tentative agreement that had been proposed.

Yet in a letter announcing a return to bargaining March 5, Per Carlsson, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Trucks North America, highlighted three issues that seemed likely to play a key role in talks: "increased health care cost sharing," "the exceptionally high degree of manpower movement and higher-than-average absenteeism in the factory."

"Everybody wants it over, but everybody wants their issues resolved," Hopkins said.

Until that happens, however, union members said they would continue to picket.

And "they've been upbeat the whole time," Barnes said.

In fact, added union member James Hagerman, "41 days of being together actually made us stronger than before."

(roanoke.com)

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