HARRISBURG — Striking Mack employees with UAW Local 677 demonstrate at Angie’s Diner on Eisenhower Boulevard, Oct. 10, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).
Nearly a dozen striking employees at Mack Trucks’ Middletown Manufacturing Plant were on the picket line Tuesday, part of a work stoppage that includes 4,000 United Auto Workers Union members across three states. The workers are seeking, among other things, employees’ cost of living increase to be reinstated, better wages, and job security
Members of UAW walked off the job Monday morning after 73% of members who work for Volvo-owned Mack Trucks rejected a tentative five-year contract agreement with the company. The Associated Press reported the contract would have included a 19% pay raise over the life of the contract.
UAW President Shawn Fain said in a letter to company officials that there were several topics that remained at issue for the workers, including cost-of-living allowances (COLA), job security, work schedules, health and safety, and overtime.
While the striking workers in Middletown declined to speak to reporters, Victor Martinez, a chairperson at UAW Local 677, said that the facility’s approximately 135 employees joined the strike Monday at 7 a.m.
The last time employees at the Middletown plant went on strike was in 2019.
“It’s mostly about the same thing, especially with the record profits that Mack has been making,” Martinez said. “Without us, there would be no profits. We just want our fair share.”
With Mack workers walking off the job, the UAW says it now has more than 30,000 UAW workers on strike in 22 states. That includes workers at several locations of the Big Three Detroit automakers, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, who went on strike Sept. 15.
President Biden visited one of the UAW’s picket lines in Michigan on Sept. 26, believed to be a first for a sitting president.
U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D-7th District) both visited the UAW Local 677 picket line in Macungie on Tuesday. Fetterman also visited the union hall and spoke with the workers.
“I proudly stand in solidarity with the striking UAW workers with MACK Trucks across Pennsylvania and this country,” Fetterman said in a press release. “The union way of life is sacred, it built Pennsylvania and this country. As long as these workers walk the picket line, I will have their backs.”
Wild called the workers “the backbone of our economy,” adding “it’s their work day in and day out that makes it all happen. I’ve got the backs of UAW Local 677 as they strike for the contract they deserve, and I’ll always stand with workers in our community fighting for their fair share.”
It was Fetterman’s third picket line appearance with the UAW; last month he drove to Michigan to show support for UAW workers on strike from the Big Three automakers, and last week, he stopped in Bucks County to meet with picketing UAW workers outside a GM facility in Langhorne.
UAW Locals 171, 677, 1247, 2301, and 2420 in UAW Region 8 and Region 9 represent workers at Mack Trucks locations in Macungie and Middletown, Pennsylvania; Hagerstown and Baltimore, Maryland; and Jacksonville, Florida, the union said.
Mack Trucks was founded in 1900 by a pair of brothers. Renault of France bought a 20% stake in Mack in 1979 for $115 million. Renault more than doubled its stake in 1983, to 45% of the company. In 2000, Swedish carmaker Volvo AB announced it was acquiring Mack in a $2 billion takeover of Renault’s trucking business. The deal closed in 2001.
Outside Mack’s sprawling Lehigh Valley Operations facility in Macungie, Lehigh County, UAW members picketed in small groups along the busy suburban road that runs in front of the plant, drawing honks of solidarity from passing trucks and school buses.
Mack based its headquarters in nearby Allentown for more than 100 years, but in recent years more and more production has been shifted to plants elsewhere.
Three cab and two chassis assembly lines, a truck modification center, and other aspects of final assembly still employ about 2,300 union workers at the 1 million-square-foot plant.
But striking workers said they believe the company’s proposal to eliminate job security language from the contract signals a plan to shutter the Macungie plant and consolidate assembly lines elsewhere.
As part of the tentative contract proposal, the company eliminated an article stipulating that certain work is required to be performed in Macungie.
“They’re trying to feed this contract with fear,” a 23-year veteran at Mack who declined to give his name, said. He described the company’s offer as a take it or leave it contract.
He added that he believes that state officials will have to intervene with incentives to keep the company in the Lehigh Valley.
“They have an interest in making it remain here as a cornerstone of the Lehigh Valley, but in my mind, actions speak louder than words,” the man said.
Mack’s contract proposal would have given the company the right to cease operations in Macungie within 30 to 60 days after making required notifications to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, UAW members said.
Another worker said that makes it difficult for younger people to feel secure working for the company.
“My whole family is built in diesel,” he said, recalling his father’s excitement when his son landed the job at Mack three years ago. “He knew this was the place that I was going to retire from.”
Striking workers in Macungie also said the economic aspects of the contract proposal were unacceptable.
While some with two-income households or no family to support are getting by, the workers said, others are struggling to make ends meet on the wages that range from $19 per hour for new hires to $28 per hour for those with five years or more of experience.
“In there are a lot of single parents who are stressed out about how much this contact could cost them,” a striking worker said.
While Mack proposed a 19% wage increase over the five years of the contract, the striking workers argue that inflation has been so great that the union is well behind the economic curve. Workers said they fear they’ll remain so at the end of the contract. The proposal would also eliminate an annual cost of living adjustment and increase insurance deductibles.
“We’re just never going to catch up with the economy,” a worker said.
Mack President Stephen Roy said in a statement on Monday that the company was “surprised and disappointed” that the union had decided to strike.
“We are committed to the collective bargaining process, and remain confident that we will be able to arrive at an agreement that delivers competitive wages and benefits for our employees and their families, while safeguarding our future as a competitive company and stable long-term employer, Roy said. “We look forward to returning to negotiations as soon as possible.”
According to the company, the tentative agreement included a 10% general wage increase in year one for all employees, a compounded 20% increase to general wages over five years, and a guarantee of no increases in health insurance premiums through the term of the contract.
For their part, despite the cold weather and wind on Tuesday, Martinez and other employees in Middletown said they were happy to be on the picket line, supporting workers across the UAW.
“These guys will stand out here, four hours a day — rain, sleet, snow — until we get what’s fair,” Martinez told the Capital-Star, “and if it takes months, it takes months, but we’d rather be back in the shops making money. But we deserve our fair share, too.”
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