Teamsters in Indiana strike at FireKing over health coverage

By Amy Husk
August 1, 2022
Members of Teamsters Local 69 stand firm on picket line at FireKing, in New Albany, Indiana, July 14. Working conditions, high costs for health insurance sparked first-ever strike there.
Militant/Amy HuskMembers of Teamsters Local 89 stand firm on picket line at FireKing, in New Albany, Indiana, July 14. Working conditions, high costs for health insurance sparked first-ever strike there.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — Spirits were high on the picket line in front of the FireKing plant here July 14 where 83 members of Teamsters Local 89 have been on strike since May 9. This Militant worker-correspondent visited the pickets along with Jim Horn, a retired member of International Chemical Workers Local 15 at Colgate in Jeffersonville.

FireKing manufactures fireproof safes and cabinets. The plant here is its only production facility, Dale Beanblossom, a picket captain and member of the negotiating committee, told us.

“This is our first strike ever,” said Beanblossom, who has worked in the plant for 36 years. “The main issue is health insurance. Every year they switch health care providers on us. The deductibles are really high — $13,000 for a family of two. We asked for a Teamsters-run plan and they rejected that. Finally they offered a plan that is close to what we wanted, but then they said they want to keep the scabs working in the plant and handpick which union members come back to work after the strike.

“They said this was their ‘last, best, and final offer,’ but we unanimously voted it down,” he said. “Either we all go back or no one goes back! They underestimated us. Not one person has crossed the line. We’re going to win!”

FireKing management cut off workers’ health insurance the first week of the strike, even though workers had paid the premiums for the month. They claim to be bringing the plant back to full production but workers on the line say they don’t have anywhere close to enough skilled people to run the plant, and many of the replacement workers are quitting.

Beanblossom said they have had some success at turning away workers who have been brought in to cross the picket line. He said at first they were just yelling insults at them, calling them “scabs,” but he decided to try a different approach. He began explaining through the bullhorn the conditions inside the plant and encouraging replacement workers to leave and come back to get hired after the strike was over.

In one case he spoke with a worker who had come in to apply for a maintenance job. The worker was with his wife and baby and said, “I’m sorry but I have to feed my family. I’m a felon and it’s hard to get a job.” Beanblossom passed on the name and number of the worker to the union office and they helped him find a different job.

Striker Heather Hearley said they’ve been trying to get Spanish interpreters to the picket line so they can talk to replacement workers who speak Spanish.

She described conditions inside the plant. “Where my machine is it’s 120 degrees in the summertime. They’ve been short-handed and lied about how they were going to hire more workers. Instead of working us our usual four, 10-hour days they often make us stay for 12 hours or work on Fridays.”

Danielle Sneed, 20, said the company tried to divide workers by proposing to charge workers who smoke higher premiums for health insurance. “They thought those of us who don’t smoke wouldn’t care. But we stood together. Some of the workers here have serious health problems, everyone deserves decent health insurance.”

Teamsters International President Sean O’Brien and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman visited the FireKing picket line at the beginning of the strike. Many Teamsters from other areas, and other union members and workers, have come to the picket line and brought solidarity and material support, Beanblossom said.

Teamsters in Boston and San Francisco protested outside the offices of Champlain Capital Partners, a so-called private equity fund, on July 8. Champlain bought up FireKing in 2020.

These types of funds are notorious for buying companies, boosting their income by an aggressive use of debt and going after workers’ wages and benefits, and then selling them for maximum profit.

The strikers welcome anyone who wants to picket with them. You can donate to their strike fund at