ORANGE, TEXAS — About 130 workers at the Firestone Polymers LLC synthetic rubber and thermoplastic elastomer facility in Orange went on strike March 18 over management's health care proposals for employees.
According to the United Steelworkers union, Firestone Polymers seeks to establish a consumer-driven health care plan at the Orange plant that has low premiums but out-of-pocket deductibles that are six times higher than what workers are paying now.
The company is proposing a pay raise of 2 percent annually for the three years of the proposed contract, which the union said is not enough to cover the extra out-of-pocket costs.
Members of USW Local 13-636 at the Orange plant particularly are worried because they work with hazardous chemicals in the factory, the union said. The facility manufactures Diene and Stereon, Firestone's trade names for polymerized polybutadiene rubber and polymerized styrene-butadiene di-block and tri-block copolymers.
"We'd be willing to take less in wages if the health care plan wasn't so expensive," said Richard Landry, USW International staff representative.
Besides the exponentially higher deductibles, the proposed health care plan would cap each worker's annual medical expense payments at $12,500, according to Landry.
"If we get a major illness, chemotherapy and certain drugs cost $5,000 a pop," he said. "A lot of people would be declaring bankruptcy."
The union is working with a mediator to schedule further meetings with management, but so far nothing has been set, Landry said.
In a statement, Firestone said it was disappointed that the USW decided to call a strike in Orange.
"It has been our goal throughout the negotiation process to achieve a contract that is in the best interest of the local union members, will allow our company to compete in the global marketplace, and will ensure that as a company we are profitable now and in the long term," the company said.
Representatives from Firestone Polymers' Japanese parent company, Bridgestone Corp., were supposed to come to Orange March 19 to assess the situation at the plant. Landry said, however, they didn't arrive that day.