Teamsters make gains in strike at FireKing in Indiana

By Amy Husk
August 15, 2022

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — Teamsters Local 89 members at FireKing voted unanimously to ratify a five-year contract July 30 after a hard-fought 12-week strike. The new contract, described in a statement by the union, includes “a radically overhauled, low deductible insurance plan that will provide significant savings” to the local’s 83 members; a 22% increase in wages over the five years; faster vacation accrual; and an additional paid holiday.

FireKing manufactures fireproof safes and cabinets. It was bought up by Champlain Capital Partners, a so-called private equity fund, in 2020. These types of funds are groups of wealthy capitalist investors who are notorious for buying companies, boosting their income by an aggressive use of debt, going after workers’ wages and benefits, and then selling them off for maximum profits. They had hoped to improve their position at the expense of FireKing’s workers.

“It’s been almost three months,” John Rickman, an assembly line “skinner” who has worked at FireKing for 23 years, told this Militant  worker-correspondent when I visited the picket line three days before the settlement along with other strike supporters from Indiana and Ohio. “They’re playing hardball, but we ain’t going back until we think it’s right.”

“They want to break the union,” added striker Dana Tracey. “The big issue is the health insurance plan. The company plan is too expensive. I pay $209 twice a month and then pay several thousand dollars a year in copays and deductibles. Some workers pay up to $13,000! I pay $800 for an emergency room visit and $60 for a specialist. It adds up, and after 23 years I only make $19 an hour.” 

While we were there, a number of truckers passed by honking their air horns loud and long in support of the strikers. “The drivers from Estes Trucking told us the FireKing bosses told their boss to make them stop honking,” Rickman said. “But a lot of them still do it.”

At the main truck gate on Industrial Boulevard we met striker Veronica Tillery, who was hired a year ago, along with a number of other workers.

“They have a hard time holding onto workers because of conditions in the plant,” she said. “There’s no climate control so in most places it’s 20 degrees hotter inside than it is outside. Other places are freezing.”

Reese Funkhouser, who is 21 and has worked at FireKing for a year, said he had never been on a picket line before. “Unions are important,” he said. “If we don’t stand up for ourselves, the bosses will walk all over us.”

Some strikers described how they were able to convince replacement workers to not cross the picket line. Dale Beanblossom, a picket captain, said he spoke with a young woman who was there for orientation. “She said her father was a union man and she didn’t want to cross a picket line. She went back in for the orientation so she could convince other workers not to take the jobs.”

“Some of the young people don’t even know what a union is!” Tracey said. “We told one young guy our union was on strike. He called his dad, who said, ‘If they’re on strike, get the hell out of there,’ and he did.”