Ky concrete workers strike over health care, two-tier

By Steve Packard
and Jim Horn
October 29, 2018

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — “This strike isn’t really about wages. It’s about health insurance and being able to take care of your family,” Ed Sadler, head mechanic with 21 years at Allied Ready Mix, told the Militant as he picketed outside the cement plant Oct. 9. 

“I’ve got a 12-year-old grandson with asthma and a 16-month-old granddaughter, so I’ve got to have good health insurance,” he said. 

The 45 drivers, mechanics, batchmen and loader operators at this concrete supplier in Butchertown, one of Louisville’s long-standing industrial areas, went on strike Oct. 8, along with half a dozen co-workers at Allied’s other facility here. The workers, members of Teamsters Local 89, walked out after rejecting the company’s “final offer,” which would have imposed across-the-board cuts in health care, pay, vacation time, overtime and pensions. 

The bosses proposed to switch workers onto a health plan that would jump their out-of-pocket expenses and cut benefits, the union said. It would impose a two-tier health care system for new hires and remove all employees from their defined pension benefit plan. 

On Oct. 1, the company told workers it would begin implementing the terms of its final offer, with or without an agreement. 

Workers on the picket line told us that if the bosses get their way the family health care deductible would double from $4,000 to $8,000 per year. 

“They’re trying to do to us what they did six years ago,” said Jonathan James, a driver at Allied for 27 years. When the company “threatened our jobs with bankruptcy claims and forced us to accept serious concessions, they said they had to, to ‘keep the company alive.’” 

Profits are booming today and the company has just completed a $2.1 million plant expansion. “This time they’re trying to get us to go for more concessions by preaching that we’re all a family,” said James. 

Strikers and supporters have mounted spirited daily picket, shouting and chanting over bullhorns. They’re greeted with a constant stream of passing trucks and cars blasting their horns in support. Production has ground to a standstill.

Other unionists have joined the line in solidarity, including United Auto Workers from nearby plants and United Food and Commercial Workers members, who pushed back the bosses’ two-tier demands at the Four Roses distillery last month. “They’re trying to push the same two-tier system here,” Kevin Bradshaw, a 20-year driver at Allied Ready Mix, said when he met nine UFCW members from Four Roses on the line and looked at the Militant’s coverage of their strike.  

Workers at retail stores in the area that don’t yet have unions, including from Menards and Walmart, have joined the picketing. One forklift operator and delivery coordinator from a Menards store in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana, came to support the strike on her day off. She grabbed the bullhorn and helped lead some chants.  She said that the health insurance at Menards is so bad that she has to stay on her parents’ insurance. “I would like a union at Menards, we definitely need it,” she added. 

“The bosses called the police on us yesterday, accusing one of our guys of throwing a bomb onto the highway,” Ronnie Sadler, a mechanic, told us. “The police couldn’t make the frame-him-up stick because he wasn’t anywhere near the highway. He was walking the line with us.” 

“One firefighter told us later that it turned out to be just a truck that had blown a tire,” Sadler said. “But today they’ve got the police here to escort scab workers out.” 

“The company likes to talk a lot about how you’ll be joining a ‘family’ when they hire you,” Randall Carwell, another driver, said. “I’ve never seen a family separated by a fence. On the picket line side of the fence, we are the family.” 

Striking driver Kevin Bradshaw said the strike sets an example for other workers. “This strike is an example of how workers can stand up for themselves.” he said. “Even if you don’t have a union yet you can look to this and see what standing up for yourself can do.”