NEWTON, IA – As UAW Local 997 members continue to walk the picket line on strike against Thombert in Newton, Iowa, they still make sure to find the time to give back to their local community.
While picketing last week, strikers were thinking of ways they could help out local residents. “One of the workers on strike has a son who owns a lawn mowing business,” said Local 997 member, David Davidson, who has worked at Thombert for almost four years. “His son offered to let us use his equipment if we wanted to help these folks mow their lawns. We thought, ‘we’re already out here, why wouldn’t we?’” Several local members spent the day mowing and cleaning up the yards in the neighborhood.
Region 4 Assistant Director, Lucas DeSpain, said he wasn’t surprised when he heard about strikers’ efforts. “Local 997 members have a lot of community support,” he noted. “And much of that is because of their work within the community, which continues to date.”
Thombert is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of polyurethane wheels and tires for narrow aisle lift trucks. Local 997 members have been on strike since August 1. They are striking for fair wages and to stop the company from attempting to implement higher healthcare costs. Thombert is proposing that Accident and Sickness benefits for workers begin on the eighth day of a claim instead of the first day, as is the current practice. Local President, Steve Wertz, said the current policy has been in effect since 1991.
Work-life balance is also a major issue at the company. Workers have been forced to work six days a week every other weekend for years. “That kind of schedule ends up taking its toll on you,” Davidson said.
Local 997 President, Steve Wertz, said that seeing how committed his members are to each other and to the community during the strike only reinforces his belief in the power of solidarity.
“This membership is out there 24/7, walking this line for a fair contract and I could not be more proud of them,” Wertz remarked. “I really mean that. They are a solid group of Brothers and Sisters and they are paving the way for the younger generation. “
UAW President, Shawn Fain, praised the actions of Local 997 members on a recent Facebook Live event: “Even as they’re fighting cutbacks in vacation time and disability benefits, they’re cutting the lawns of their neighbors. Solidarity is the foundation of our union and service to the community is at our core. The Thombert strikers of Local 997, Unit 8, are proving it.”
Davidson stated that strikers know the support of the community will be crucial during the fight against Thombert and that residents have already played a big part in helping the strike. “The people in this neighborhood are standing behind us, bringing us supplies, allowing us to set up tents for shelter on their property, so it’s very important to us that we return that good will,” he said. “This is a small community in Newton and we’re sticking together. We’re going to keep helping each other as much as we can.”