NEW ALBANY — Union workers at FireKing International LLC are continuing to strike after disputes with the New Albany company.

FireKing workers with Teamsters Local No. 89 began striking May 9. More than a week later, leadership from the national Teamsters labor union joined FireKing workers in a picket line outside the company’s production plant at 900 Park Place.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien and Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Fred Zuckerman both visited Wednesday to show their support to the FireKing workers.

Jay Dennis, business agent with Teamsters Local No. 89, said the union workers at FireKing “are holding strong,” and most union members at the company have showed up on the picket line. FireKing has 141 employees, including 86 represented by the union.

“We have not had any one of our members cross the picket line,” he said.

The strike began after Teamsters Local No. 89 filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with alleged practices by FireKing leadership during the bargaining process, according to Dennis.

For the workers on strike, much of the dispute stems from frustration with the health care plan and wages in the company’s proposed contract. Union workers unanimously rejected FireKing’s “best and final offer” for a new agreement earlier this month.

O’Brien said he and Zuckerman joined the local union members to support “their fight against corporate greed.”

“It’s like anything else, it’s not about what we want, it’s about what we’re worth,” he said.

In a Tuesday news release, FireKing International announced that the company has started the process of hiring temporary replacement employees “to return operations to full production” while union workers are on strike. The company manufactures storage products such as safes and filing cabinets.

“Using the multiple levers at our disposal, we are quickly bringing FireKing back to full production without an agreement with the union leadership,” FireKing CEO Rick Mejia said in the news release.

“We remain disappointed that the union has chosen to go down this path and reject our competitive and generous offer. However, we must now move on and do what is best for all of our employees, their families and our customers.”

Last week, FireKing announced the suspension of union member benefits as of May 4 “in accordance with the terms of the parties’ now-expired collective bargaining agreement.”

Dennis described the company’s response as a “terror campaign.”

“They’ve sent these members letters threatening to cut off their insurance, telling them they’re going to be replaced,” he said. “They’ve kind of pulled out the union-busting stops, so to speak, but all it’s done has increased our members’ resolve to get this done.”

He described FireKing’s action to “retroactively cancel all these folks’ insurance back to May 4” as “particularly heinous.”

“We are in the process of exploring what action we’re going to take, but we’re going to take every action we possibly can to resolve this,” Dennis said.

FireKing maintenance worker Roger Perkins is among those picketing outside the company. He is a member of the union committee at the company, and he has been on strike since last Monday.

“The first thing is insurance — they have $800 co-pays and deductibles are like sky-high,” he said. “Family out-of-pocket is $13,000. The second thing is wages — right now we’re at $18.60 at starting pay for these guys coming in here, and these are hard jobs in there.”

During negotiations, Teamsters pushed for the adoption of a union-sponsored TeamCare health insurance plan instead of the current United Healthcare plan offered to FireKing workers, but FireKing described the plan as “unworkable.”

Perkins also expressed concerns about a removal of a production bonus for workers under the company’s proposed agreement, saying “you’re not really getting a large raise.” He said workers deserve more money than what has been offered by FireKing leadership.

Last week, FireKing said in a news release that the company’s proposal instead “increases and guarantees the production bonus to employees by including it as a fixed part of the employee’s wage.”

In Tuesday’s news release, FireKing claims striking workers made attempts to “prevent vehicles from entering or leaving the premises, in addition to other unlawful behavior,” and it states that the company provided a “cease-and-desist directive” to the union.

“We are proud to be part of this community, and we are hopeful that the actions of the union members will not negatively impact our neighbors,” Mejia said. “Profanity, harassment and other disorderly behavior has no place at FireKing. We trust the union will honor our cease-and-desist directive.”

Dennis said he received a directive Monday from the company, but it was not a cease-and-desist order. He said “there was no order from any government agency or court,” but instead it was a letter from the employer “alleging that we are blocking traffic egress and ingress to and from here.”

He said FireKing’s allegation is “not truthful,” and he described the letter as a “scare tactic.”

“We are doing legally-protected activity here,” he said. “When a car comes, they’re able to get through, but we will continue to do this. They have also alleged that we’re harassing and surveilling their security team and their employees. What we are doing is legally protected… we’re engaging in legal speech. They’ve had cops come out here three times and each time the cops have left and said we’re doing nothing wrong.”

Dennis said the union’s ULP charge with the NLRB is still being processed, and the union has since filed two additional charges related to “bargaining in bad faith.” The initial charge stemmed from a letter sent from FireKing to employees during negotiations, which “tried to subvert” the bargaining process, Dennis said.

Last week, Mejia said in a news release that the “union’s allegations in the pending unfair labor practice charge are patently false.”

O’Brien said the group is seeking “better working conditions, better wages, better benefits, but more importantly more dignity and respect in the workplace.”

He notes that Teamsters will provide financial support and resources to striking workers “to make sure we win this strike,” he said.

“We don’t want our members financially compromised,” O’Brien said. “We have a strike and defense fund that can support them…we’ll take care of them.”

Following the union’s rejection of the company’s best and final offer, FireKing said in Tuesday’s news release “it will meet with the union to discuss implementation of certain economic terms of that proposal.”

“Under these terms, previously rejected by the union, new employees will receive the highest first year wage increase in the history of the company and reduced employee contributions toward health insurance premiums,” the news release states.

Dennis said the company has “ignored” the union’s communication regarding possible bargaining dates, but he did receive the message from the company regarding plans to implement portions of the best and final offer.

He said the union wants to “go to the table and bargain in good faith, and they need to do the same.”

“They offered to meet with us via Zoom to talk about that implementation, but we’re not interested in hearing how they’re going to implement certain parts of their agreement,” Dennis said. “They’ll just tell us what parts they’re planning on implementing, but we’re interested in bargaining.”

Striking workers will continue to “put pressure on the company” to bargain with the union, Dennis said.

“We feel they failed at that, but we’re going to continue to do our job and work to get this resolved,” he said. “It’s definitely in the company’s best interest to do that, because our membership’s on our side.”

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