EAST GREENWICH, RI — Truck drivers and gas cylinder fillers who are members of Teamsters Local 251 went on strike yesterday morning against Airgas USA, following Airgas' refusal to consider the workers' proposals for affordable healthcare and secure retirement during contract negotiations.
The workers supply gas to many Rhode Island entities including: Rhode Island Hospital; Roger Williams Medical Center; Memorial Hospital, Miriam Hospital; Newport Hospital; the Veterans Administration facilities in Providence and Bristol; the Air National Guard; Naval Base Newport; Raytheon; Fuji Film; and Electric Boat.
Airgas and its subsidiaries are America's largest distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases. Airgas' parent corporation Air Liquide [EPA: AI], based in France, is the world's largest distributor of such gases and is a Forbes Global 2000 company.
The workers organized their union with Local 251 in 2012 and are bargaining for a new contract. Their first contract with Airgas expired in April of this year.
As he walked the line yesterday morning, Airgas shop steward Carlos Salgado said, "We work hard to help Airgas and Air Liquide earn huge profits. Air Liquide earned $20 billion last year, of which $2 billion was pure profit."
Salgado continued, "In contract negotiations, we asked for a defined benefit pension plan so that we can count on a secure retirement. We also want to join the high-quality, affordable healthcare plan that union workers at Airgas' competitors have. Airgas refused to consider our proposals, so we are on strike to show the company that we are demanding a fair return on our work."
"Airgas' disrespect of its Teamster workers will have severe consequences. Teamsters in New England will use the full weight of our 55,000 members to assist Airgas members at Local 251 and any other local to ensure they are treated fairly and with respect," emphasized Sean O'Brien, Teamsters International Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Joint Council 10 in New England.
On May 9, Airgas sent a letter to employees — a letter that violates federal labor law, which bans companies from negotiating directly with workers about their union contract.
"It is shocking that in addition to refusing to consider basic proposals that help its loyal employees and their families, Airgas decided to violate federal labor law that's meant to protect workers' rights," said Matthew Taibi, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 251.
Taibi continued, "Teamsters Local 251 filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. Airgas' letter mischaracterized negotiations and is an attempt to bargain directly with workers, which is illegal. Our Airgas members were outraged over this behavior."
Representatives from other Teamsters local unions that also represent Airgas workers throughout New England have been at the bargaining table with Local 251. "We're all in this together," said Bob Sayer, Local 251 Business Agent for the Airgas workers. "In the Union, our credo is that old axiom: 'An injury to one is an injury to all.'"
"It's about dignity and respect in the workplace. That's why we are walking this picket line," added Salgado.