Newton Wheel Assembly Plant Strike Enters Week Six
Monday, September 11, 2023
A strike at the Thombert Manufacturing facility in Newton is entering its sixth week. Workers and company management are trying to come to terms on a labor contract to take more of the employees' needs into account.
Some 84 UAW union workers are on strike at Thombert, a large manufacturer of electric forklift tires. They have been off the job since Aug. 1.
Steve Wertz, president of UAW Local 997 in Newton, said his team is striking over the same issues typically prompting rifts between employees and management.
"The issues we are facing right now are wages, changes to our health care costs, insurance," Wertz outlined. "We are also dealing with vacation, trying to get people out of there for work-life balance. Those are the main sticking points."
Wertz noted the average worker earns about $23.50 an hour at the Thombert plant, adding the two sides are within "a few percentage pointed" on the pay scale. Wertz explained workers are asking for a "significant increase to catch up with inflation," and to be compensated for the extra hours they have absorbed since fire closed a second company factory nearby. Thombert officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Newton has a long history of labor issues. The Maytag corporation was the town's largest employer until 2006 when, after almost a century, Whirlpool bought Maytag and closed the Newton plant. Wertz stressed locals remember the history, which has translated into support for the striking Thombert workers now.
"Retirees, former factory workers, have all come out and supported us," Newton observed. "Businesses in this town are on our side. Meals, water, donations; just anything to help us out. And support of other unions has been phenomenal. Everybody has our back."
While some production methods have improved, Wertz pointed out factory work remains hot, dirty and tiring, often requiring assembly line workers to work with equipment reaching 260 degrees. Despite the labor stoppage, Thombert currently has several open jobs posted on its website.
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