Local auto workers celebrate new contract

Labor Day has always been a holiday of celebration for local auto workers in Springfield, but this year it held an even greater significance.

About 1,000 union employees, retirees and family members attended the United Auto Workers Local 402 Labor Day cookout on Monday at the union’s Recreation Park on Derr Road. It was the second straight year for the cookout after the annual tradition was suspended in the early 2000s.

In February, Navistar and the UAW Local 402 ratified a four-year contract that will provide job security for about 1,300 Springfield employees, including 1,000 union workers at the Springfield truck assembly plant. The new contract may also lead to more hiring in the future, said Local 402 President Jason Barlow.

The company has added more than 300 new employees in recent years, increasing union membership. The Springfield assembly plant builds about 93 medium- and heavy-duty trucks per day, Barlow said, and has the capacity to build more as it grows its customer base.

“We’re in a position now that in the next year, the company is going to be earning money and becoming profitable,” Barlow said. “We’ve set ourselves up for future growth here in Springfield.”

There are about 1,200 union employees at both the assembly plant and the TSC Mechanics plant, Barlow said. There are now about 1,500 workers overall at the Springfield plant, including management and contractors, Barlow estimated.

Locally, the UAW Local 402 represents the majority of Springfield’s employees, while the UAW Local 658 represents about 90 clerical workers. Thousands of Navistar retirees also live in the area.

Local workers have been making sacrifices for generations, Barlow said. The Local 402 union began in 1939.

“We’re celebrating American workers and pride in our work,” Barlow said.

Navistar had as few as 300 workers in Springfield as recently as 2010, but those numbers spiked as work from other facilities came back to Clark County. In recent years, Navistar has also invested about $30 million into the Springfield plant for infrastructure upgrades and improvements at the paint facility.

Ben Burk is a third-generation Navistar employee who grew up attending the picnics with his father. The new contract is great news for local workers, said Burk, who has worked at the assembly plant for about four years.

“It’s good. Hopefully it continues,” Burk said. “Hopefully we can get more work.”