It cost one Airgas employee who uses the company health plan more than $1,300 to get a soft cast for his son’s sprained wrist. $500 was the deductible, the other $800 is what the plan costs per month for him, his wife and son.
The high cost of health insurance is one of the reasons local Airgas employees have been on strike since Wednesday. They say they are willing to stay out of work as long as it takes to win a better health plan and other concessions from Airgas.
“We’ve been here at 5am until 5 or 6pm, daily,” said Matt Taibi, the union representative for the Teamsters Local 251, which represents the 8 Airgas truck drivers.
Airgas, on Route 2 near the East Greenwich/Warwick/West Warwick border, delivers compressed gas to industrial and medical facilities all over Rhode Island. It supplies much of the gas used at local hospitals. While deliveries are still being made by scab workers from other non-union Airgas facilities, said union officials, the Teamsters and their supporters are actively trying to deter business as usual.
“We shut down four facilities in New England last week,” Taibi said. “We sent picketers to other Teamster-represented facilities. Our members did not cross the picket line.”
The nation-wide company, which handles more than $20 billion in sales annually, was bought by Air Liquide, one of the biggest supplies of compressed gas in the world, last year. Employees and their union say the European workers are paid better than the American workers.
“Employees in Europe are getting better benefits, a pension,” said one Airgas employee who asked not to be identified by his name, “but they don’t want to give it to the American workers.”
The Airgas strike is only six days old, but already it has grown contentious. Taibi, the Teamsters representative, said Airgas management called the police on protesters on Friday, but no charges were filed. On Monday, three Airgas security guards filmed the action as Teamster members heckled them.
Neither the security personnel or the Teamsters, aside from Taibi, would comment to this reporter.