U.S. Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders came to Racine on Friday to show his support for striking CNH Industrial workers. Members of United Auto Workers Local 180 have been on strike since early May and continue to picket outside the CNH Industrial plant where Case tractors are manufactured.
The union says it is fighting for better wages and better working conditions. Over a thousand members are on strike at CNN sites in Racine and Burlington, Iowa.
In a roughly 15-minute speech outside the local union’s headquarters to a crowd of a few hundred, Sanders said the strikers were part of a larger fight against corporate greed.
“It’s high time to realize that you can’t have it all,” Sanders said. “You can’t run over people. You can’t run over families. The people who have worked for you have earned you huge sums of money. You have to treat them with respect and dignity.”
Sanders said union members are “sending a message to working families across the country.”
“You fight to be treated like human beings, so you can spend time with your kids and your parents,” Sanders said. “That’s all you ask. It’s not much.”
The strike is part of a series of nationwide industrial actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Kellogg workers’ strikes and organizing efforts at Starbucks across the country, including in Wisconsin.
Sanders has responded to numerous complaints from union members, including 12-hour workdays and forced overtime.
“We’re talking about workers here at CNH who have made tremendous sacrifices during the pandemic, not being able to spend quality time with their families, or even get enough rest, before having to return to work,” Sanders said.
“Today we say to the CEO of CNH, ‘Enough bullying, enough coercion, enough lies, enough greed,'” Sanders said. “Enough is enough.”
In a statement in May, CNH said it was working to reach an agreement with the union. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Union member Paul Trudeau was present at Sanders’ speech. He said he had worked for CNH since 2008 and said the conditions were unsafe.
Trudeau said there was still no air conditioning in the plant’s machine shop.
“I saw it was as hot as 97 degrees and no one is being sent home,” Trudeau said.
He said three union members had died of COVID-19 and told the story of a worker who returned after months in hospital but ultimately had to take security disability benefits social instead.
“It’s respiratory and she, all of a sudden, she had no more wind,” Trudeau said. “COVID has affected a lot, but they still want you there.”
Yasin Mahdi is the president of United Auto Workers Local 180, which represents CNH workers. He said wages and benefits offered by the company are locked in the past.
“A good faith measure would be for the company to offer commensurate salaries and benefits to 2022,” Mahdi said. “After the company attempted to negotiate with the members individually, I told the members exactly what the company had on the table, and it infuriated them even more.”
Mahdi said negotiations earlier in the week with the company had failed, but he said Sanders’ visit would boost the morale of the strikers.
“Society really has to be serious if it wants a deal,” Mahdi said. “If they don’t, that’s fine too. We’re here for the long haul.”
Trudeau said he hoped fellow union members would “stay together.”
“Solidarity is the most important thing right now – sticking together like one giant family, because we are one family,” Trudeau said.