In the end, 17 votes decided the end of a five-week United Auto Workers strike at Volvo Trucks North America.

The third tentative agreement in the protracted labor dispute was rejected by the workers last Friday. But when the company declared an impasse and imposed the terms of the deal, the local union called for a second vote on Wednesday. Two of three sections passed by 17 votes. Salary language failed by 16 votes.

Signing bonus at stake

After pleas from some union members in Dublin, Virginia, to reject the pact a second time, voting appeared to follow personal financial interests. In addition to raises and one lump-sum payment over the six years of the agreement, workers faced forfeiting a $2,000 pretax signing bonus if they rejected the deal.

Workers have been receiving $275 a week in strike benefits. Two more such payments are forthcoming. But it is a pittance compared to hourly wages for production workers that will top out at $30.92 in 2026.

UAW Local 2069 leaders said the second vote had to be taken and Volvo had to set a specific return-to-work date for the union to file an unfair labor practice grievance with the National Labor Relations Board. Volvo said union-represented hourly workers must return by next Monday.

Further salary talks unlikely

It is unclear when such an NLRB filing would be made or what the specific complaint would be. Negotiators began talks on a new agreement in February. The union extended the expiration of the previous five-year contract for 30 days before calling a strike that lasted 12 days in April. Union officials ended the strike before members rejected the first tentative deal, by a 9-1 margin.

A second tentative agreement failed by a slightly bigger margin and a second strike began June 7. The unprecedented third tentative agreement failed by a 6-4 margin last Friday. 

“Squeaker ratifications are nerve-wracking, but that shows they hit the ball down the middle of the field.”

Kristin Dziczek, senior vice president of research at the Center for Automotive Research

UAW Local 2069 President Matt Blondino said in a video posted on the union’s Facebook page that bargainers would seek further talks on wages. But in declaring the impasse on Saturday, Volvo ended talks and implemented terms of the third tentative agreement, which the company called its last, best and final offer.

“Squeaker ratifications are nerve-wracking, but that shows they hit the ball down the middle of the field,” Kristin Dziczek, senior vice president of research at the Center for Automotive Research, told FreightWaves. “It’s probably a more fair agreement.”

Shifting negotiation strategy foreseen

The multiple rejections were a first for the UAW, which historically presents a one-and-done tentative agreement to members. UAW-represented Fiat Chrysler Automobiles workers rejected an agreement in September 2015, but that was seen as a rarity.

Dziczek thinks what happened at the former FCA (now Stellantis) and Volvo could change bargaining strategy for the next round of UAW talks with the Detroit 3 automakers in 2023.

“That might just change the dynamics altogether — the first agreement comes back and members will just automatically, reflexively reject it,” she said. “This is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the members are going to throw back the first agreement, then the first agreement is not going to be great. It sets up a system that is not the way it used to be.”

Related articles:

End game: Volvo reopens plant and encourages strikers to come back

Volvo workers reject third proposed deal; company will ‘consider all options’

Impact of UAW strike at Volvo spreads to Maryland engine plant

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