TRW Automotive workers strike at Lebanon plant

August 28, 2013

TRW Automotive workers strike at Lebanon plant

UAW employees oppose concessions in new contract

By G. Chambers Williams III
| The Tennessean

One of Wilson County’s top employers has been shut down by a strike.

About 400 production employees at the TRW Automotive plant in Lebanon went on strike after rejecting a new contract in a lopsided vote on Sunday, according to the United Auto Workers union, which represents the workers.

They’re unhappy about concessions the company wanted in the new contract, particularly in the way overtime pay is computed, increases in co-pays for health care and the use of more temporary employees at the plant, TRW Commercial Steering Systems, said UAW District Director Gary Casteel, who is based in Lebanon.

The plant makes power-steering gears for heavy-duty, over-the-road trucks for such manufacturers as Freightliner, Volvo and Peterbilt.

After their contract with TRW expired Saturday night, the workers voted 250-49 against the company’s last contract offer on Sunday, and walked off the job shortly after the vote, said Gary Bowman, president of UAW Local 342 at the plant and a 20-year worker at the facility.

He said workers hope to resume negotiations and reach an agreement on a new contract soon, but “only if it is fair.”

“We took $15 million in concessions in 2008, and they’re asking for more,” Bowman said. “We feel like it’s time for the company to start giving something back.”

Casteel said the workers are upset because TRW is posting record profits, but the employees are being asked to sacrifice even more.

“These workers made a lot of concessions to the company in 2008, and they now have what I refer to as ‘concession fatigue,’ ” Casteel said. “They see the company doing very well because the heavy-truck industry is doing well, but they’re not getting to participate in that success.”

Managers have been sent in from a non-union TRW plant in Rogersville, and the company has brought in some temporary workers to try to get production restarted while the strike continues, Bowman said. “There were about 100 who came in (Tuesday), and they were all getting fitted for work boots.

“They really don’t have anyone in there who can run this equipment, though,” he said. “The Rogersville plant makes a different product and has completely different equipment.”

In an emailed statement, TRW spokesman John Wilkerson said:

“TRW confirms that the workers at its Commercial Steering plant in Lebanon Tenn., voted for a strike action and began a strike Sunday evening shortly after 9 p.m. We continue to negotiate with the union in good faith and are seeking to reach an agreement in hopes of ending the strike. TRW does not discuss details of the negotiations as these discussions are between the company and the union.”

Claim disputed

Casteel and Bowman said no negotiations have taken place since before the contract vote and that TRW has not responded to a certified letter from the UAW requesting that talks resume. “We haven’t heard a word from them,” Casteel said.

Strikers are picketing around the clock at several entrances to the plant at 1103 Baddour Parkway. On Tuesday afternoon, there were about 100 pickets around the plant, holding up signs in view of passing motorists. Many of the motorists were honking their horns and giving the picketers thumbs-up gestures.

“We’ve got plenty of community support, from police officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers, and even some city officials,” said striker Kevin Huddleston, a nearly 20-year TRW employee and a former Lebanon vice mayor and city councilman.

“This plant has been here over 50 years, and it has gotten a lot of support from the city of Lebanon,” Huddleston said. “A lot of us, like me, are multigenerational employees. My father retired from this plant. We love our jobs, but we want to be treated fairly. This is our livelihood, and we have children we’re raising in this town.”

One big issue is the company’s proposal to hire more temporary workers beyond the 30 percent maximum allowed in the contract that just expired, Huddleston said.

“These new workers are coming in for $10 an hour with no benefits and no insurance,” he said. “Those are poverty wages. Some of them are working here full time, yet still qualify for federal benefits. They make less than I did when I started here nearly 20 years ago.

Top wages at the plant are just over $18 an hour, but the average is about $14, Bowman said.

Originally known as Ross Gear, the plant now is operated by TRW, a worldwide automotive parts supplier based in Livonia, Mich. The publicly traded company (NYSE: TRW) has 185 locations worldwide, and more than 60,000 employees and contractors. Last year, annual sales topped $16 billion.

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