Striking UAW workers at Volvo Trucks North America voted to reject a third tentative agreement on Friday, prompting the heavy-duty truck manufacturer to “consider all options related to the bargaining process.”
The approximately 2,900 members of UAW Local 2069 have been on strike at the New River Valley plant in Dublin, Virginia, for more than a month. They struck for 12 days earlier this year, all part of a protracted dispute to get a new contract to replace a five-year agreement that expired in March.
Friday’s vote was the closest so far. Workers turned down contract language covering hourly workers and separate language affecting all workers 60% to 40%; and rejected a salary proposal 67% to 33%. Two previous tentative agreements were rejected by 9:1 margins.
‘Unexpected and very disappointing’
“Given the significant wage gains and first-class benefits this agreement delivered, and the strong support it garnered from UAW leadership at every level, this outcome is unexpected and very disappointing,” Franky Marchand, New River Valley vice president and general manager, said in a statement.
“Now that our employees have rejected three successive agreements endorsed by the leaders they elected to represent them, we need to consider our next steps … and we will consider all options related to the bargaining process.”
“Now that our employees have rejected three successive agreements endorsed by the leaders they elected to represent them, we need to consider our next steps … and we will consider all options related to the bargaining process.”Franky Marchand, Volvo Trucks North America New River Valley vice president and general manager
The company did not say what those steps might include, but everything from mediation to seeking to decertify the union would be possibilities.
“It’s always difficult to take three bites of the apple,” Kristin Dziczek, senior vice president of research at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told FreightWaves.
UAW says strike will continue
The International UAW said in a statement Saturday morning that the strike would continue.
“The elected UAW Local 2069 Bargaining Committee will continue to work to negotiate a fair contract that reflects the value of this hardworking membership,” the statement said. “We appreciate the solidarity and support of the community as we continue to walk the picket line and work to negotiate a fair contract for UAW Local 2069 members.”
However, the credibility of negotiators is suspect after three times telling members it got the best contract it could. The International UAW spoke up in favor of the deal and Volvo took the unusual step of publicly touting some of its provisions before the vote.
“A UAW local rejecting one tentative agreement is rare, two is super rare and three is unprecedented,” Dziczek said.
“There are segments of the world where the first contract is always rejected. It’s more theater,” she said. “It’s not like [UAW negotiators] went in to get a halfway agreement and see if we can pass this. That has not been the case with the UAW.”
Strikers fear what’s next
On the Local 2069 Facebook page, several members praised the solidarity of striking for a total of six weeks so far,
“Hold the line. I am very proud of the commitment and unity you guys are showing.,” one posted.
A few expressed disappointment at the outcome.
“I hope everyone that voted NO on this is happy cause I voted yes so the working person can get back to work and feed his family and have insurance also,” read one post. “You people don’t know what it is like when you are about to lose everything.”
Said another: “This no vote will significantly affect working people’s careers. This no vote will cause significant setbacks for the company and their customers. I hope those who voted no understand the ramifications not only for the union, but also for the company and the community.
Impact on expansion
“The ongoing strike — which we continue to believe is unnecessary — is hurting our customers, and has already set back our project to expand and upgrade the facility,” Marchand said.
Sweden-based Volvo Group assembles all Volvo and Mack Trucks and engines for both in the U.S. The engine plant in Hagerstown, Maryland, has lost shifts due to the strike. The Mack plant near Allentown, Pennsylvania, is down because of parts shortages unrelated to the strike..
New River Valley is in the midst of a $400 million investment for advanced technology upgrades, site expansion and preparation for future products, including the Class 8 VNR Electric truck.
The plant has added 1,100 jobs since the current union agreement was implemented in 2016 and is on track to add approximately 600 positions this year, the company said.