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MT. PLEASANT, Wis. — U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders critisized Case-New Holland (CNH) Industrial management for not resolving a contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 180, which resulted in a strike that has lasted more than seven weeks.

The former presidential candidate spoke to union workers at CNH Industrial, 3323 Kearney Ave. in Mount Pleasant, on Friday. Sanders wanted to show his support of their striking efforts. Employees at CNH Industrial’s locations in Racine, Wis., and Burlington, Iowa, are on strike demanding improved health benefits, better wages and working conditions, and adjusted pay based on the cost of living.

The event took place nearly a week and a half after Sanders and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) addressed CNH Industrial’s CEO Scott Wine in a letter. The letter expressed their support for the strike and urge for change.

“We stand up to this outrageous level of greed and selflessness and say to these companies, the time is long overdue to understand you can’t have it all. You can’t crush families,” Sander’s said. “People who have worked for you have made you huge amounts of money. You’ve got to treat them with respect and dignity. So I’m here really to express my admiration and respect for your courage in standing up to this type of greed. And I know it’s not easy. I know going out on strike is not easy. I know your families are hurting.”

CNH Industrial has not provided any comments in response to Racine County Eye’s emails. The story will be updated as information is received.

Sen. Sanders, other government officials attend

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders addresses the assembled workers who are on strike at CNH. – Credit: Emma Widmar

“CNH made over $1.7 billion in profit. And if CNH can afford to provide its CEO, Scott Wine, with a $9.2 million signing bonus and $22 million in compensation for one year of work, which is about 8,000 times the raise that is offered for some workers, then surely they can afford to pay all of its workers decent wages.”

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

Other elected officials attended the event, including Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin Mandela Barnes, member of Wisconsin State Assembly Greta Neubauer, member of the Wisconsin State Senate Bob Wirch, Wisconsin politician running for U.S. Senate Tom Nelson and others.

“It’s important that the UAW workers here, who made CNH the company that it is, are receiving a fair deal. Companies all across this country are seeing record profits when working people don’t often get their fair share,” Barnes said.

The strike has been ongoing for over seven weeks.

“You know, there’s no reason we’ve had to drag this thing out, this thing has been dragged out so long,” Barnes said. “We should have gotten this weeks ago, but we’ll be out here as long as it takes.”

More images from the event

Young and old alike gathered at the event in support of the workers on strike. – Credit: Emma Widmar
Picketing signs line a cinder block wall for the UAW strike at CNH. – Credit: Emma Widmar
A man holds a sign that cites high gas and food prices. – Credit: Emma Widmar
Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes speaks with UAW members at Friday’s event. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Impact on workers

Employees Scott Bohlman and Sands Ruffalo spoke about how the strike has impacted them financially, as well as the harsh working conditions. – Credit: Emma Widmar

CNH Industrial employees Scott Bohlman and Sands Ruffalo attended the event to listen to Senator Sanders. Bohlman has been with the company for 11 years and Ruffalo has been employed with CNH for 20 years. They explained that, due to being on strike, they aren’t making money to support themselves or their families.

“You know, being off at work and not working, you’re not making money, right? You got bills to pay,” Bohlman shared.

Ruffalo acknowledged the difficulties as well and shared that employees’ children don’t understand what the strike means for their families.

Ruffalo, who works in the new product department, explained they are allotted one 10-minute break and one 30-minute lunch while working 12-hour days. During Sanders’ speech, he drew attention to the fact that employees at CNH are working nearly 60-hour weeks, with up to 17 hours per week of forced overtime.

Workers say they face harsh circumstances

Brian Sheehan, a U.S. Army Veteran and UAW Local 180 member, is a father of four and grandparent to one grandchild. He was present at the conference to stand in solidarity.

Sheehan took a position as an assembler with CNH one week before the strike. On his second day of work, they put him on the job by himself, he said. “I didn’t even know what I was doing after one day of watching.”

Sheehan’s time in the military has given him perspective on the way relationships between employers and employees should work.

“I was a team leader, but I wasn’t talking down on others ranked below me,” Sheehan said. He compared his military past to what’s happening at CNH and added, “I just felt like they were better soldiers when you talk to (them) like they’re people. When you’re down on people and not treating them right, then you get people who don’t give a crap about the quality of work.”

Since the strike, CNH has taken away healthcare benefits and hired replacement workers. This includes taking away dental and vision benefits while on strike. Sheehan noted, “The cheapest tractor is $350 grand — that’s one with no bells and whistles.” Yet, wages that are being paid to its employees do not reflect what employees are earning. Given CNH’s growth and continued increase in revenue, Sheehan explained that $27 to $30 an hour, as a starting wage, is not too large of an ask from this company.

“So my point is that I see why everybody’s upset here and just wants to get paid for what they’re worth,” said the veteran.

Brian Sheehan (assembler), Chris Bellaire (Logistics), and David Carrol (Transmission Assembler) hold signs that read “UAW ON STRIKE.” – Credit: Emma Widmar

Watch the town hall conference

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