Strike option looming over Freightliner

Strike option looming over Freightliner

 

 
 

Workers have overwhelmingly authorized union leaders to call for a strike at Daimler Trucks North America’s Parts and Components Plant in Gastonia, if contract negotiations fail, according to a post on the United Auto Workers Local 5286 Web site Thursday.

And employees of DTNA’s Freightliner Truck Manufacturing Plant in Mount Holly represented by the UAW Local 5285 could vote on a similar measure this weekend, according to union officials.

The authorization vote does not mean local workers will strike, said Gary Casteel, director of the UAW’s District 8. The vote is a common procedural step that could lead to more drastic action should negotiations break down on pivotal issues.

“We’re a long way from striking,” Casteel said. “It’s kind of a strategic call. It’s really a formality.”

The bargaining committee now has authorization from members in Gastonia to call for a strike. But before anyone pickets outside DTNA plants in Gaston County, Casteel said he would have to make a recommendation to the UAW president. The International UAW would have to sanction the strike. And the local membership would have to vote to approve the strike.

Casteel said the strike authorization isn’t necessarily an indication that negotiations are failing. Then again, he said, “If we were all happy with the company’s proposal and knew there wasn’t any way we’d end up striking,” then this step wouldn’t be necessary.

In the past, the bargaining committee has requested the strike authorization before negotiations began, just to get it out of the way, Casteel said. Negotiations between DTNA officials and union leaders representing plants in Gastonia, Mount Holly and Cleveland, N.C., began March 3.

With the current three-year labor contracts set to expire April 2 in Mount Holly and April 9 in Gastonia, Casteel said the bargaining committee can’t afford to wait until the last minute to get authorization from members.

Casteel said negotiations are still in progress. The bargaining committee is trying to find agreement on a number of issues, he said, but it only takes one unresolved conflict to create an impasse.

“We’re still working on it,” Casteel said. “You don’t have a deal until you have a deal in total.”

DTNA spokeswoman Maria McCullough said the strike authorization “does not impact the negotiations process at this point.”

“We are aware of the union’s standard protocol to gain strike authorization from their membership prior to the expiration of a contract,” McCullough said. “Other details of negotiations between the parties remain confidential.”

Job security is the biggest concern for thousands of workers at DTNA plants in North Carolina, including many who were laid off from 2007-’09 amid a historic decline in the market for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Local workers have also lost jobs as DTNA has shifted production to plants in Mexico to cut costs.

The UAW prevailed this year in an arbitration case that found DTNA in violation of its current labor agreement for outsourcing production to Mexico, while laying off about 900 workers in Mount Holly in 2008 and ’09. Since March 2007, DTNA has laid off about 1,371 workers in Mount Holly and 498 in Gastonia.

You can reach Business Editor Daniel Jackson at 704-869-1833.

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