Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader
A group of workers at a local refinery on “Chemical Row” are now on strike.
Members of United Steel Workers Union Local No. 13836 went on strike at noon, Monday, at the Firestone Polymers, LLC. location in Orange, Texas, after contract negotiations failed this past weekend. The decision to strike was made after weeks of negotiations came to a stand-still.
More than a month ago officials with the local USW union and Firestone Polymers LLCC began negotiations for the next contract, which was proposed for another three year period. However, the outcome did not with approval with union representatives.
According to Lynne Hancock, spokesperson for the United Steel Workers union, the main issue with the proposed contract is wages and healthcare, more so the healthcare.
“(Firestone) has given us a ‘take it or leave it’ approach,” Hancock said in a telephone interview. “The new healthcare package they are proposing has a high deductible. It’s almost three times the current deductible rate. They are not increasing wages enough to compensate for that.”
Hancock said the previous contract expired on March 8, 2013, and the approximate 130 hourly workers represented at that facility have been working “day-to-day” since that time.
The negotiations have been ongoing for more than a month. Hancock said USW wanted a mediator to come in and help with the contract talks several weeks ago, but Firestone Polymers refused.
“They offered to go to mediation about a half-hour before the strike was supposed to begin, but the union members decided to go ahead with the strike,” Hancock added. “They told us recently that they were done and the previous offer was their final offer, but we haven’t reached an impasse yet.”
Hancock said the insurance plan is a “consumer driven plan,” which means it has high deductibles and low premiums.
“It can be very expensive if you have to see the doctor on a regular basis,” she explained. “A raise of 2 percent won’t even cover the healthcare costs.”
Hancock said the healthcare issue is extremely important because of the nature of the job and the work environment.
“These workers need excellent health care because they work in a potentially dangerous environment with all of these dangerous chemicals,” she added. “We believe there is a lot of room to negotiate still and approach this from a problem-solving standpoint. We’re hopeful both sides will go back to the negotiating table very soon.”
Messages left at for officials at Firestone Polymers LLC in Orange were not immediately returned.