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Senator Sanders tells striking Burlington workers the problem is corporate greed

Jane Carlson
Tri States Public Radio
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, speaks to striking CNH workers and union supporters at Burlington's Crapo Park.

Around 1,200 workers at plants in Burlington, Iowa, and in Racine, Wisc., have been on strike since their last contract expired at the end of April.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, told striking CNH Industrial workers in Burlington, Iowa, that what’s happening there is happening all over the country.

“We are seeing company after company extract benefits from their workers and force them to work incredibly long hours,” Sanders said.

Sanders came to Burlington to show support for striking workers.

The former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, told an enthusiastic crowd gathered around the bandshell in Crapo Park that it was good to be in the “other” Burlington.

“I know you’re here in Burlington, Iowa, it’s a small town. But the country looks at you and is proud of you,” Sanders told workers. “For having the courage to stand up and tell these greedy corporate leaders that you cannot trample on the rights of those of us that come from the working class.”

CNH manufactures agricultural and construction equipment.

Around 1,200 workers at plants in Burlington and in Racine, Wisc., have been on strike since their last contract expired at the end of April.

According to workers, at issue are insufficient pay raises and changes to health insurance that drastically reduce deductible and out of pocket costs.

The lowest paid workers would receive an hourly raise of $1.33 an hour, which they said is the equivalent of a pay cut amid soaring inflation, and families would have $13,000 in out of pocket costs under the new insurance plan.

The company is also trying to slash the union contract from six to three years.

Nick Guernsey, president of UAW Local 807 in Burlington, said the last round of contract negotiations last week was not fruitful.

“As you know we’ve been on strike since May 2. We’ve been repeatedly back with the company. We’re still on strike. So what does that tell you? They’re not dealing with us,” Guernsey said.

Sanders said the struggle is about a decent contract, but also human decency.

He said the root of the problem is corporate greed, pointing out that CNH is owned by the Agnelli family – one of the wealthiest families in the world – and the company made $1.7 billion in profit last year.

“What’s going on right now, when we talk about corporate greed, is that there is more income and wealth inequality in America than this country has ever seen,” Sanders said.

Burlington workers said they are aware they could be in this for the long haul.

“We’re not going anywhere,” UAW Local 807’s Tracy Chew told the crowd.

Chew thanked Sanders and supporters for coming out in the heat.

She said it’s hot on the picket line, too, but community members have been bringing them food and water, and the union’s solidarity is “through the roof.”

“You guys stay strong out here,” Chew said. “The International voted to give us a little more money, get you a little part-time job.”

Sanders said the contract offered to workers in Burlington is “inadequate” and “insulting” as they deal with forced overtime and twelve-hour days, and as they put their lives on the line working through the pandemic.

“Futhermore, CNH has unacceptably rehired replacement workers. I know here in Iowa you have another word for that, called scabs,” Sanders said to cheers and chants of “yes, they did” from the crowd. “And they hired these workers even before the strike started.”

Also on hand to show support were members of UAW Local 450 in Des Moines, who recently came off a strike at John Deere.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.