One of Randolph County's largest employers could soon face a work stoppage after union members rejected a contract proposal from Armstrong World Industries Inc. Thursday evening. The current contract is set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and officials said employees would continue to work without a contract as long as the company is willing to continue to negotiate the terms of a new agreement.
Ken Hall, president of Teamsters Local 175, said Armstrong is seeking massive premium increases and severe benefit cuts on the 550 Teamsters working at the Beverly manufacturing facility despite the fact that the company's healthcare cost for the group has decreased by more than 21 percent since 2007. He said the cost reduction is a result of employee's previously agreed to reductions in their healthcare benefits as well as their participation in wellness programs.
"These courageous workers took a stand tonight against corporate greed," Hall said. "They've already done more than their fair share during tough economic times to save the company money. They're paying more for health care and getting reduced benefits, allowing Armstrong to cut health care costs by 21 percent in the past three years during a time of escalating prices. There's reasonableness and then there's corporate greed. How much is enough for Armstrong?"
REJECTED – Teamsters Local 175 President Ken Hall welcomed more than 400 union members to a meeting Thursday at the National Guard Armory in Elkins to discuss the terms of the contract agreement from Armstrong World Industries Inc. Union members rejected the agreement but will continue working while representative try to negotiate a new deal. (The Inter-Mountain/Ben Simmons) © The Inter-Mountain, all rights reserved.
The company's proposal was defeated by a vote of 294 to 149. However, Hall said employees have agreed to continue working in hopes that a fair settlement can be reached. He said the "ball rests in the company's court" to avoid a strike.
"As further evidence that these folks are willing to try to work with the company, they are going to continue to work," Hall said. "They are going to continue working, so long as the company is willing to come back to the table and negotiate over a fair and reasonable contract. This is a big step for these people.
"They are trying to meet the company half way, they understand that the economy is not great. But by the same token, the company has to recognize that when they go to the store to buy milk and bread or when they go to the doctor's office the costs have increased tremendously," Hall said,.
Hall said the company pays about $558 per worker in health care costs, while the average cost for a company is well over $1,000 per worker. He said Armstrong also proposed a 50 percent increase in deductibles, substantially reducing prescription drug coverage and eliminating the defined benefit pension plan for newly hired employees.
Company officials released a brief statement concerning the contract rejection.
"We are disappointed our Beverly, West Virginia, plant employees rejected the proposed labor agreement," Jennifer Johnson, senior manager of communications for Armstrong World Industries wrote in a prepared statement. "The downturn in the housing market continues to adversely impact the wood flooring business. We consider the proposal we presented to be fair, realistic and necessary to move the business forward, and we hope our employees will soon ratify an agreement that supports the company's business needs such as reducing health care and legacy costs," Johnson said.
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