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'It's just a simple tactic' | Why one striker is confident Eaton won't replace union workers

97% of local IAM union members voted against Eaton's second contract offer. The company says it's looking to hire permanent replacements.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Despite stalled negotiations and threats of replacement workers, one member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) on strike at Eaton Corporation says the picket line is standing strong. 

Eaton workers said the company's second contract offer was nearly the same as the first, minus the original 3-year agreement getting changed into a 5-year deal. Consequently, 97% of union members voted against Eaton's second proposal on March 4. 

That overwhelming majority matches the union's 98% approval vote to go on strike in the first place. 

That same day, Eaton announced it would begin looking for permanent replacements for the union workers on strike. An Eaton spokesperson also said the company would not be available for further negotiations until the week of March 14 at the earliest. 

But now, on Day 18 of the strike, one local assembler says both morale and confidence is high on the picket lines. 

"We're ready to be out here until they want to give us something fair so we can get back in and get to work and build the products that we love to build," said Craig West. 

West has been with the facility now owned by Eaton for two and a half years. The assembler says local IAM members weren't expecting to be wowed by the company's second contract offer. 

"They offered us the same contract they did before, they just added two years to it," he said. "I think we have six people who voted for the contract, but it's a pretty unanimous feeling amongst everybody." 

He's holding out hope for a proposal that addresses some of the strikers' main concerns over wages, health care and retirement

According to West, Eaton's first contract included a 2.5% wage increase for the first year followed by a 3% increase on years two and three. He said the second offer was largely similar, even with an added two years onto the deal. Those numbers have not been confirmed by the union or Eaton. 

But his main concerns, he tells News 8, are two-fold. 

"I think cost of living up front and an option to keep our PPO plan that most of us are already on so we're not gonna go broke trying to provide health care for our families," West said. "They took away our PPO plan. So to not have any plan basically forces us all to accept these high-deductible plans that would just take thousands of dollars out of our pockets." 

An Eaton spokesperson has said that the company is now looking to find new workers to continue day-to-day operations. Due to the lengthy period of time it takes to train employees for Eaton's specific military and aerospace products, the company said those replacements will be permanent. 

"It's not a decision we make lightly," part a statement from Eaton read. "And our goal remains to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with the union."

But it's that lengthy training period that West is betting on. 

"It's just too skilled of a job to just have anybody walk off the street and take. It's not going to happen," he said. "It's just a simple tactic." 

He says the training period for his first job at Eaton (previously known as Cobham) took about six months. And he's still learning the ropes on his current position, which he's held since July. 

"It's skilled labor. We've spent a lot of time learning, a lot of us have degrees, things like that. We're a very educated workforce," West said. "We're not building — you know, gluing Legos together here." 

Already, workers, including West, have alleged Eaton is busing-in workers.

"The other day I think they brought 41 people in and then another day they split them up between two buses so it looked like there was more, but it was still the same amount of people," he said. "Nothing's really surprising us right now." 

But he says that still wasn't enough to sway his vote on the second contract offer. 

"To replace all of us it would take years and years of training because a lot of things we do in here, they don't do anywhere else. Not a lot of people are gonna walk in with any experience on what we do," West said. 

It's that confidence that's helping the strikers dig the line a little deeper, despite harsh weather conditions and little protection against the elements. 

"Anything we lose now... we're probably not going to get back," West said.

Eaton's Davenport facility is located on the western side of the city on Hickory Grove Road. It specializes in contract work for the U.S. government and other aerospace companies. The workers on strike make a variety of products including aerial refueling equipment, fuel tank inverting systems and other environmental products for the military, according to a company spokesperson. 

Last year, Eaton Corporation bought Cobham, which owned the manufacturing plant in Davenport, for $2.8 billion.

The Davenport plant employs almost 1,000 people, putting it in the top-20 major employers in the Quad Cities, according to the Quad Cities Chamber.  

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