On Jan. 8, members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 1363 held a solidarity event for their strike outside Valley Ford Truck in Cleveland. In attendance were members from United Steelworkers, Teamsters, United Electrical Workers, American Federation of Government Employees, Service Employees International Union and United Auto Workers.
Catalyzed by disputes over a new contract the company put forth, the mechanics of Valley Ford Truck unanimously voted to go on strike Dec. 18, 2023. Although negotiations began in May 2023, Valley Ford Truck delayed negotiations and forced workers to make a choice: settle for a pay cut or strike a week before Christmas.
Previously, the company contributed $3.30 per hour to workers’ 401(k) — about $6,800 per year. The new contract would move the $3.30 per hour to wages and cap the retirement contribution at $3,600 per year. “By moving our money to our wages, and capping the match at $3,600 a year,” said Mark Bowser, union steward, told Liberation News, “they’re effectively taking half of our current retirement benefit away from us and telling us that’s our raise.” According to Bowser, this would also leave half of the current employees without a pay raise.
The strike follows a long history of cuts to benefits since 2019, which saw workers losing their pension, leaving them with a 401(k). The new contract also stipulates that if the economy crashes, the company can effectively change the percentage match and yearly cap. In addition, the company plans to reduce guaranteed weekly work hours, which puts workers in an even more uncertain position.
“These are benefits we have had for 68 years here that they’re now trying to reduce. You have to wonder what the longer-term plan is. What’s next?” asked Bowser.
Valley Ford Truck workers are not alone. Companies big and small are cutting worker benefits. According to USA Today, in addition to the cuts to 401(k) plans and hours worked, like Local 1363 is fighting, employers across America are also shutting down non-cash benefits like health and dental insurance, tuition assistance and mobile phone discounts. Like Valley Ford Truck, these cuts hide behind “raises” that look good on paper, but actually translate to companies giving less but getting to say they’re doing more.
Since the pandemic, companies have been making record profits, and the rich, ruling class of America is squeezing workers from both sides. In a 2022 deep dive by The Guardian, an analysis examined the relationship between company profits and the historic inflation the country has seen since the pandemic. It found that corporations have used the imbalance of supply and demand from COVID-19 to massively increase their profit margins, even as Americans struggle to afford basic goods. One particularly egregious example was Chevron, which experienced a 240% profit spike while gas prices soared. It was part of “the best two quarters the company has ever seen” and, according to The Guardian, “prompted a dividend increase and assurances it would keep production low to maintain high prices.”
The CEOs and shareholders may be stacking the deck, but every day more and more of the working class are realizing that the power of labor is in their hands. In 2023, there was a historic “summer of strikes,” with picket lines for UAW, Starbucks Worker’s United, SEIU, SAG-AFRA and the Writer’s Guild of America, drawing scores of supporters and wide media attention. Two thirds of Americans approve of unions, though only 10% of workers belong to a union.
The 24 striking union members at Valley Ford Truck are a microcosm of the continuously rising tide of worker empowerment against exploitation by the rich and powerful. Though they are few in number, members of Local 1363 know they represent something larger than themselves.
Bowser says other dealers and union stores are watching: “We’re standing up for not just ourselves, but for other union workers, for the non-union workers. When you’re fighting these companies, you’re up against their boards and their lawyers and the owners. When you have the union backing you, you have a lot more support and you level that playing field to get the rights that you deserve.”
When asked what people can do to support the strike effort, in addition to hand warmers and hot drinks, Bowser says the thing they’d like to see most is people standing in solidarity with them out on the picket line. Valley Ford Truck is located at 5715 Canal Rd, Cleveland, OH, 44125.
Feature photo: Workers and supporters rally outside Valley Ford Truck in Cleveland on Jan. 8. Liberation photo