RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. -- More than 200 Constellium Rolled Products workers gathered at a union hall in Ravenswood Tuesday morning to discuss issues that sparked their walkout just after midnight Sunday.
Randy Moore, subdistrict director for the United Steelworkers Local 5668, said changes that Constellium demanded in its health insurance plan were the major factor leading to the breakdown in negotiations for a new five-year contract.
Striking employees have set up four roadside sites where pickets gather, hold signs and talk to passers-by.
Today, nearly 700 union workers are on strike against Constellium, a major manufacturer of high-quality aluminum used for airplanes, automobiles and other transportation-related products.
During negotiations that began in May, Constellium had minor disagreements about requests union negotiators made for "modest" wage and pension increases, Moore said. But arguments became "contentious" about health care provisions.
"We do not want to give up what we already have," Moore said.
On July 26 and 27, the USW local held four meetings to explain the company's proposed contract to its members.
"With 690 members eligible to vote [on the contract], 624 voted; 604 voted against the company's offer and 20 voted for the company's offer," Moore said.
A statement released by USW Local 5668 on Tuesday said, "Changes the company wants to make to health care coverage will significantly increase costs to employees and their families.
"The changes could more than wipe out any wage increases the company has proposed. Currently, workers at Constellium make an average of about $19 an hour."
Dave Martin, a member of the USW local's negotiating committee, said, "The company has never shown us any information about health care - not the first figure."
Moore and other union leaders pointed out that they have only asked for "modest wage increases" since 1994, to keep good health care benefits.
"We pay for it every day," Moore said. "Our wages are far more than $2 an hour behind what our major competitors pay."
Constellium's current health insurance benefits plan, Moore added, "includes no vision plan, an antiquated dental plan and our retirement benefits are very modest."
Woody Call, who began working for Ravenswood Aluminum after the 1992 lockout ended, was leading one group of pickets in front of the Constellium plant Tuesday.
A Constellium equipment operator and a former coal miner, Call said, "All we want to do is stand up against corporate greed.
"If we don't, our kids and grandkids won't have anything. We want the company to bargain in good faith."
Ray Burgess, another striking worker who was picketing the plant, said, "We're number one in safety and production at Constellium. We make the best metal in the world, for people flying in the sky and for the military."