Sen. Bernie Sanders on CNH Industrial: “Enough with the intimidation”

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MOUNT PLEASANT – It’s been a tough 47 days for 680 union workers at CNH Industrial in Racine who have been on the job since March 2.

Workers are protesting an increase in healthcare costs, a lack of compensation to compensate for the increases and cuts in pension benefits.

On May 13, CNH Industrial health insurance coverage was withdrawn from striking employees and they will likely have no coverage during the strike.

The national union, the United Auto Workers, to which the workers belong, is raising $400 a week per employee to help cover the costs.

“We run a pantry downstairs in the basement, so every Friday when everyone’s picking up their bills, we have a pantry downstairs for them,” said Gary Mercil, a machinist who has worked for CNH Industrial for 15 years.

On Friday, the striking workers got “cheer up” from US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who came to meet with the workers at UAW Local 180 in Mount Pleasant.

“You’re sending a message to working families across the country,” Sanders said. “They are fed up with corporate greed and want to be treated with dignity and respect.”

US Senator Bernie Sanders told striking workers at CNH Industrial on Friday that this was the case

Sanders railed against the pay gap between CNH Industrial’s top executive and his workers.

“If CNH can afford to give its CEO, Scott Wine, a $9.2 million signing bonus — this guy’s not even a basketball or baseball player — and nearly $22 million in compensation for a… year, which equates to about 8,000 times the wage increase offered. Certain workers can afford to pay their workers decent wages,” Sanders said.

CNH Industrial manufactures agricultural machinery and its portfolio includes Case IH, headquartered in Racine.

Sanders praised the workers and encouraged CNH Industrial to come to the negotiating table.

“Today we say to the CEO of CNH, enough intimidation, enough coercion, enough lying, enough greed, enough is enough,” Sanders said. “Now is the time for CNH to sit down at the negotiating table and negotiate in good faith with the UAW.”

State Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, whose district represents portions of CNH Industrial, said it was “important” that Sanders spoke to workers.

“Bernie has long been a supporter of unions and of course working people, and he recognizes that the union’s ability to fight for better working conditions in unionized settings means better conditions for all,” Neubauer said. “We all know that costs are rising, families are struggling at the moment and wages need to rise too.”

Lt.  gov.  Mandela Barnes speaks to members of UAW Local 180 about the strike at CNH Industrial at a Mount Pleasant city hall on Friday.

the lt gov. Wisconsin’s Mandela Barnes, who is running in the Democratic primary to challenge Republican Senator Ron Johnson, said he is interested in legislation that narrows the pay gap between CEOs and average workers.

“I think it’s important that hard work is rewarded and I think it’s also important that big companies pay their fair share and of course Congress has the power to hold employers accountable,” Barnes said.

“Dangerous game”

Yasin Mahdi is serving in his first term as President of UAW Local 180 and has been with CNH Industrial for 13 years.

“They had the scabs in (the facility) within hours of us declaring the strike,” Mahdi said.

Scabs refer to non-union workers brought to work to replace the striking workers.

“We went out at noon, at 1 a.m. workers were already coming in vans,” Mercil said. “They’re trying to break our union.”

Aside from the issue of pay and benefits, workers say the company wants to reduce contract lengths from six years to three years.

“It seems like CNH would like to waste the UAW’s time negotiating,” Mahdi said. “We started negotiations in April, the first week of April. It doesn’t take long to reach an agreement. They know what to do. They don’t even compare to employers in the region in terms of wages, benefits or vacation time.”

Some workers have changed jobs or are considering changing jobs during the strike.

“The company is playing a dangerous game where people might find another job and they might like it better there and (CNH Industrial) could lose an employee who could serve them with their skills and knowledge of how to assemble this product , the facility is very valuable,” said Mahdi. “It’s all on the company.”

While Sanders’ speech may have revived workers, Mahdi knows there is still a long way to go before a deal materializes.

“I assume the company will lock us out,” Mahdi said. “I expect the company to up the ante and deal with my members individually, rather than going through the elected officials that members have elected to represent them.”

Mahdi said they could start reaching out to the traders and farmers who buy the equipment to let them know about their situation.

“The farmers are the ones who buy the product,” Mahdi said.

“And I don’t see them wanting to buy a product that wasn’t made by someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Attempts to reach CNH Industrial for comment were unsuccessful.

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