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Vol. 75/No. 38      October 24, 2011

(front page)
Union at military truck plant in
Wisconsin rejects concessions
Photo courtesy the Oshkosh Northwestern
Autoworkers exit meeting after voting down concession contract pushed by Oshkosh Corp.

OSHKOSH, Wis.—Workers at the huge Oshkosh Corp. truck plants here rejected a proposed union-busting contract by a two-to-one margin October 8.

Oshkosh manufactures and rebuilds heavy duty vehicles for the U.S. military used in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

This is the second time in eight days members of United Auto Workers Local 578 have rejected the bosses’ proposals that would allow the hiring of temporary supplemental workers and raise premiums for medical insurance coverage.

Oshkosh’s five-year contract offer would also raise workers’ health care costs. The only substantive change from the company’s first offer was a paltry increase from 8 percent to 8.5 percent in wage raises over five years. Either way, workers say the pay raises would be negated by increased medical insurance premiums.

“Oshkosh Corporation is not broke, they have been hiring, not laying off,” Bridget Fredrich, an assembler for 10 years who rebuilds military vehicles used in Iraq, told the Militant. “Why should they hire temporary workers at lower pay with less rights? Everyone deserves the same opportunity.”

“We voted no,” added Carol Johannes, also an assembler with nine years at the plant. “It’s the same offer with slightly different language. You can’t trust the company.”

The big majority of the 3,100 union members packed an aircraft hanger for the vote on Saturday. After casting ballots many emerged with thumbs-down gestures and said they intend to resume informational pickets in the community. Hundreds of UAW members joined pickets in downtown Oshkosh during the negotiations last week, carrying signs that read, “Union Proud,” “First Madison, now Oshkosh,” and “We are not Harley-Davidson.”

Under threats of massive layoffs last year, members of the United Steelworkers and International Association of Machinists narrowly approved a seven-year concessions contract with Harley-Davidson that included a wage freeze, a hike in health care expenses and the right to hire temporary workers at lower pay.

Karly Schwalbach, a 10-year worker at Oshkosh, told the Oshkosh Northwestern that a number of the new hires came from Harley-Davidson and other companies that pressured workers to accept concessions. “If anything, I think their presence makes us stronger,” she said.

“This contract proposal was downright degrading,” Andrew Schaller, a 12-year worker at the plant, told the Militant. “The workers made this company what it is. We put them into the Fortune 500.”

Schaller is one of many workers at Oshkosh who joined protests in Madison earlier this year against the attacks on public workers. “An attack on one union is an attack on all,” he said. “This country was built by the working class, starting with the American Revolution. The working class goes to the wars, and makes all their products. Why should we be pushed down and humiliated?”

The previous contract expired September 30, and UAW Local 578 has authorized a strike. Union officials say they hope to return to the bargaining table soon. Workers returned to their regular shifts on Monday, October 10.
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