SEATTLE — Darigold employs thousands of workers throughout Washington State, but now some of them are preparing for a work stoppage if the union and the company can’t agree on a new labor contract. At the center of the fight is healthcare coverage.
Darigold vice president Steve Rowe said that because of Obamacare, they are asking employees to pay more of their health care premiums. He said there is too much uncertainty about the costs associated with it once the health care act takes effect.
Employees are worried the company might lock them out until a deal is reached.
“It’s very uneasy right now,” employee Henning Jensen said. “We do not know what’s going to happen.”
Jensen has worked at Darigold’s milk plant on Rainier Avenue for more than 10 years. He and hundreds of others have been working without a contract this summer and now Teamsters 117 said negotiations with the company have broken down.
“They want a lot more flexibility to change schedules, to really impact their quality of life,” union representative Tracey Thompson said. “They’re asking for more of a shift of health and welfare on top of wanting all these changes.”
Jensen was working for the company 10 years ago when Darigold locked out employees for nine months.
“It was horrible,” he said. “A lot of families lost their homes, a lot of divorces. It was very, very difficult on their employees.”
Teamsters said negotiations stopped when the company walked out earlier this week, but Rowe insists the company put a fair deal on the table.
Darigold wants employees to pay up to 10 percent of their health insurance premiums –- almost double what they currently pay.
The union complains the proposed pay increase doesn’t come close to covering that jump in healthcare costs and would essentially force their members to take a pay cut.
Jensen just hopes they can keep working.
“It seems like everything (is) in motion that hey did 10 years ago,” Jensen said.
Rowe said they’ve accomplished a lot in their negotiations with the union, but if they can’t reach a deal soon, the Seattle and Issaquah plants will keep up production only they will do it without union employees.