Work halted by area strike

Work halted by area strike
Economic issues lie at the heart of a strike which has created a work stoppage at Vermillion and Sioux City, IA, ready-mix businesses, the labor union and a company attorney said.

In a news release, officials from Teamsters Local Union No. 554 said their members had gone on an "unfair labor practice" strike against Standard Ready Mix, LLC in Sioux City and Ludey's in Vermillion.

The union's three-year contract ended Sunday, Oct. 15, which prompted the strike, said Danny Avelyn of Omaha, NE, vice president of the Teamsters Local Union No. 554. The strike affects a total of 60 workers, the majority of them ready-mix drivers, he said.

"We began picketing around 4 a.m. (Monday, Oct. 16). We have 52 workers in Sioux City and eight in Vermillion," he said. "They all fall under the same (labor) contract. The businesses are owned by the same person, and Ludey's is covered by an addendum."

In a news release, the union said, "The pickets have been specifically instructed not to speak to members of the press or media."

On the company side, a Ludey's official referred media calls to Standard Ready Mix, where an official in turn referred calls to Omaha attorney Kelly Berens.

While the two ready-mix companies are located in different states, they are treated the same under the federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Berens said.

Berens declined to discuss details of the strike with the press because of the possible implications on negotiations. However, he confirmed money issues play a key role in the strike. "This is definitely about economics," he said.

Berens reiterated the companies' position that they presented a good package during negotiations. "We have put out what we believe to be a very, very fair proposal," he said. "It's a three-year package with a wage increase every year of the agreement."

"We gave what we thought was the last, best, final offer, and they rejected it," Berens said of the union.

Avelyn disagreed, noting the companies and union have conducted five different bargaining sessions since Oct. 5 without success.

"We don't feel, at any point in time, the company came in and bargained in good faith," he said. "They didn't even have any proposals at the date we initiated talks. I was concerned about their motivation besides negotiating a fair and equitable agreement."

While the negotiations cover a range of areas, "health care is a priority issue," Avelyn said. He added that he provided the companies' owner with insurance information in August in preparation for negotiations.

"Health care is a huge issue, and I put a proposal on the table for their perusal," Avelyn said of company officials. "I don't think they genuinely considered the offer, yet they didn't have their own (proposal)."

At the present time, nearly two dozen employees are not taking health insurance because of the cost, Avelyn said.

"We have 19 people who don't have any coverage whatsoever, and that scares me," he said. "These people are playing Russian roulette with their wife and kids, having no insurance coverage. One little accident, and they will pay for the rest of their lives."

The union is picketing not only the businesses but also work sites away from the two plants, said James Sheard of Omaha, the Local No. 554 secretary-treasurer and principal officer.

"Federal law entitles us to picket these companies not only at their principal place of business, but also wherever its employees are working," Sheard said in a news release. "We are following trucks of Standard Ready Mix, LLC and Ludey's, and are picketing them wherever they are delivering."

The "ambulatory picketing" means the union can follow company trucks for picketing, but must keep moving along with the company vehicles, Berens said.

The contract negotiations cover Teamsters Local Union No. 554 employees at both companies. Avelyn said he was "not aware" of any affected union employees not participating in the strike. Berens declined to comment on the issue.

Both sides said they don't know how long the strike will last. According to a Sioux City television station, the Standard Ready Mix plant was affected by a 1997 strike that lasted a week.

The Sioux City station reported another area plant was receiving more inquiries about filling orders because of the strike. However, Berens reassured customers that Standard Ready Mix and Ludey's will continue honoring their business commitments despite the strike.

Avelyn said he did not believe the two companies will replace striking workers. "Workers can be replaced only for economic reasons, and this strike is for an unfair labor practice," he said.

Both sides indicated they do not want a long strike, but they also want acceptance of their bargaining terms.

"We have no new negotiations scheduled at this time," Berens said.

Avelyn called the strike "a no-win situation" for both sides, with the companies losing business and the workers not receiving wages.

"This is absolutely something we don't want to do. It's a last resort," he said of the strike.

The strike will hopefully result in an agreement benefiting both sides, Avelyn said.

"We are not asking to be part-owners of the company. We aren't telling them how to direct their work force," he said. "We are just asking for what is fair and equitable for all parties."

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