UAW Local 997 pickets Thombert in midst of Historic Big 3 Strike

Sep 26, 2023

Travis Smith, Peter Flynn

Newton IOWA - In the midst of a historic UAW stand up strike, workers at UAW Local 997 at Thombert, Inc marked almost seven weeks since their walkout on Saturday September 16th with a rally. Workers at Thombert voted 90% to reject the contract offered by their employer. Over a hundred workers, supporters and their families turned out to picket in solidarity, and to make their voices heard. Members of Edna Griffin School for Social Justice joined the picket and spoke with members fighting for better working conditions.

Local 997 president Steve Wentz about the rally, “We are fighting over wages, the outrageous healthcare increases, and we’re trying to get our members their vacation. They’re working six days a week, and we’re trying to get them work life balance. Right now, this event is more geared towards getting our retirees involved, somebody that’s fought through this and paved the way for us.”

Local 997 president Steve Wentz (right), Peter (center), and Naomi (left)

Local 997 president Steve Wentz (right), Peter (center), and Naomi (left)

The union at Thombert dates back to the sixties and indeed there were many retirees in attendance. One man we spoke to was 90 years old this year.

American workers work 442 more hours per year than German workers, 294 more than UK workers and 301 more than French workers according to OECD stats. According to the US BLS, the productivity per worker has increased 434% since 1950 while work hours have remained the same or risen. Compounding this, the US is the only industrialized country without a national paid childcare leave. The US also is in the bottom three of industrialized countries for average paid vacation time of only 13 days a year. By contrast, the average for industrialized countries as a whole is 20, while France and Finland get 30.

Iowa AFL-CIO President Charlie Wishman also gave the crowd a fiery speech, “Who is tired of corporate greed?” He asked. “For the past three years, when [any of us] have gone to the picket lines anywhere in this state what do you hear? ‘Well I’ve been called essential for the past three years, but when it comes time to get paid, when it’s time to negotiate, oh I guess we’re expendable!’ I’m sick and tired of the corporate greed and I know you all are too. It’s not just here and it’s not just the Big 3. It’s USW Local 105 at Whitecap in Eldridge, they’re on strike too, and we got some more that may be coming up as well. It’s people just like you that are sick and tired of the corporate greed.”

Over half of essential workers have no access to paid sick leave, and while that number is much higher for unionized employees, that number is not 100%. Healthcare costs have also increased and we can expect the largest jump in a decade in 2024.

We at the Edna Griffin School stand in solidarity with workers fighting for their rights to work life balance, vacation, healthcare, and decent wages. Show your support for our fellow workers by donating to their effort, or contact UAW Local 997 at (641) 792-5005.

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