BY KEVIN LILLY, Pharos-Tribune business writer

All that keeps United Steelworkers Union Local 7-0007 from striking at Transco Railway Products is approval from its International officers in Fort Wayne.

In a meeting Tuesday evening, union members got the two-thirds votes necessary for a strike. Mike Hall, Union Local president, said once they receive authorization from International, they are walking out. Hall expects that to be sometime today.

The fight is over health insurance costs.

“We accepted the fact that we would have to pay insurance,” Hall said. “But we also accepted that the amount they want us to pay is outrageous.”

In the last contract, health coverage cost nothing. There was an annual deductible of $100 for an individual and $300 for the family plan and an out-of-pocket expense of $1,000. The latest proposal is $500 deductible for the individual and $1,500 for the family plan within the network and double that outside the network. The out-of-pocket remains the same.

The complaint is not about the individual plan. The fight is over the family plan, which affects a majority of Transco’s Logansport workforce.

“I speak for everybody that’s out there in that same boat,” Hall said. He understands the proposals as “being penalized for being a family man, for having kids and a wife.”

The cost for the family plan is scheduled to be $42 in the first year, $84 in the second and $126 in the third.

“Going from zero, we can’t pay that,” Hall said speaking on behalf of the union members. “That’s just ridiculous for somebody that owns their own insurance company, that is self-insured like that, to want to charge us that type of money and not compensate us on our wages. We’re not asking to get rich but, damn, we have to live too.”

Hall fears insurance costs will force some workers to go without coverage because they have other expenses, like feeding their families.

Neither side is budging at this point.

Ellen Smith, the chief negotiator for Transco, said this is a big misunderstanding. The increase in wages offsets the hourly rate of health insurance costs.

In the first year, they will get a raise of 55 cents and 50 cents each year thereafter. The health-care costs for the family plan break down to 31 cents in the first year and 26 cents each year after.

“The guys on the committee can’t get past it (paying for health-care coverage),” Smith said. “And apparently can’t communicate it well to the work force.”

“They’ve never had to pay before,” plant manager Eric Nichols said. “This is the initial hit.”

Nichols has worked at the Logansport facility 31 years and has never been through a strike. He said he is not quite sure how far this could go in terms of possibly closing Transco’s doors.

“It could devastate our company as far as Logansport. When this work leaves, it’s going to be hard to get it back.”

The end result may be the loss of all their jobs.

“It’s hard for me to believe they are even thinking about it in this day and age,” Nichols said. “People are going to see this and say look we had a job and we lost our job.”

United Steelworkers Union Local 7-0007 representatives offered alternatives to the company with no impact on the offer.

“The negotiator basically told us that’s all they’re giving and that’s that,” Hall said. “They don’t want to give anything.”

“We don’t want to have to strike, but where do we go? We’re eating the feathers. They’re eating the chicken.”

“They thought they would drag us down enough so we just accept what they offer and go back to work. Well, it didn’t work that way this time.”

Nichols was in hopes of bringing the 11 laid off workers back in the next week or two. If the union goes on strike, that is not possible.

“Nobody wins in a strike,” Smith said.
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