Teamsters strike in
SK Workers on Strike!
Posted On: Aug 26, 2009 (08:08:38)
Workers at SK Hand Tools in Chicago and McCook have
been on strike since 5:30am Tuesday morning over the
company's unilateral withdrawal of their health care coverage.
The strike is being covered by every
outlet, which shows how important the issue of justice
is to the general public.
Workers strike after health care yanked
SK Hand Tool union's contract expired
by Francine Knowles And Cheryl V. Jackson,
Unionized workers launched a strike at SK Hand Tool
Corp.'s Chicago and McCook sites Tuesday after the
company dropped employees' health insurance coverage
without notice, according to a Teamsters official.
The company's action in May has left some workers
saddled with costly medical bills and others worrying
what they will do if they or their families get sick,
said Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743.
The union represents about 75 workers at the company.
Workers found out their insurance was dropped after
they noticed no health care insurance premium
deductions were taken out of their paychecks, Berg said.
The union has been in discussions with the company, but
has been unable to resolve the matter, which prompted
the unfair labor practices strike, he said.
"This has been devastating," Berg said. "It's like
anybody else in society. If you don't need health
insurance, you're fine, but when you need it, you
really need it."
Donna Pustul is now paying $354 to refill a 90-day
prescription that had cost her $40.
Other workers, such as Lazaro Godeaez, are putting off
visits to the doctor.
"I'm supposed to go see him every six months. Now that
I don't have insurance, I don't go see the doctor,"
said 54-year-old Godeaez, who says he's healthy, but
any new maladies might have been brought on by cuts at
work. "I've got anxiety maybe."
A high blood-pressure patient, Kim Prach, is supposed
to go to the doctor every three months. His last visit
was two months ago, and he's not planning another
anytime soon, he said.
"I'm afraid because I might have to go to the
hospital," said Prach, 51, a 25-year SK employee. "I
may break down and die at home."
His co-worker, Dejan Gavatski, had emergency hernia
surgery last month, leaving him with more than $20,000 in bills.
"The doctor said I couldn't wait," said Gavatski, 28.
He's paid $2,000 to $3,000 in related hospital costs.
Had he had health insurance, as he did up until May 1,
he would have paid about $1,000 out of pocket.
"People are threatened with losing their homes, with
financial ruin," Berg said.
The company said in a statement, "We realize that
employees want to have health care, and we wish that we
could provide them with coverage. The elimination of
the coverage was not our choice; rather, it was due to
a third-party's decision to remove coverage, which was
beyond our control."
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint
against the company in July, and a hearing has been
scheduled for Sept. 3.
If found in violation of the law, the company would be
required "to restore the status quo" as it was before
the violation and would have to bargain with the union
in good faith, said a board spokeswoman. If workers
suffered any financial hardship, the company would have
to remedy that as well, she added.
The union's contract with the company expired in
February. New contract talks began in January, but
there was no discussion of dropping health insurance
before the company dropped it in May, according to Berg.
"Health insurance wasn't a sticking point" before, he said.
The company "is having some financial difficulties,"
and has sought wage concessions, including a 20 percent
wage cut, plus a $4-an- hour wage cut for the first six
months of a new contract, he said, adding that workers
have not had a wage increase in six years.
Workers' hourly wages range from about $11 to $19, and
the average hourly pay is $14, according to a union representative.
Update on SK Strike
Updated On: Aug 27, 2009 (08:16:00)
"People's spirits are high from all the community
support," said Emilio Lunar (pictured below on the
left). "Please come out and stand with us - even if
you only have 5 minutes," he continued.
SK management called the union into a negotations
meeting today with a mediator, yet only offered the
same proposals they've been offering all along.
The union has been offering to bring the company into
the Local 743 Health and Welfare plan at a greatly
reduced rate but the company keeps declining. In
response to SK's press release yesterday about being
dropped by a 3rd party administrator, union officials
say they don't know what the company is talking about.
"This strike has captured the imagination of people of
concience across Chicagoland," said Local 743 president
Richard Berg. "The strikers are strengthened by the
overwhelming show of solidarity from supporters. We
will continue to fight till we get justice," he continued.
Click here to see the coverage on the International Brotherhood of Teamsters website.
Click here to see the coverage on the Joint Council 25 website.