Unjust out-of-pocket deductibles, threat to pension are two main issues
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Teamsters Local 618 member Jared Oshel, who has worked at the Valvoline plant at Highway 55 and Potomac for nearly six years, is in his fifth week on strike at the company.
It’s the first time the 33-year-old husband and father of three young boys has been involved in a strike, and while his paychecks have stopped, his mortgage and other monthly bills keep rolling in.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
“It’s the fear of the unknown like ‘How am I going to pay the bills? What options do I have? How long is this going to go on?’” Oshel said. “Fortunately, I married into a strong union family, so I have them to lean on for advice, and it’s been great having the support of everyone who’s stopped by the strike line.”
About 40 people turned out March 26 to stand in solidarity with Local 618 members at the plant located at 3536 S. 1st Street. The group included members from other local unions, representatives from Missouri Jobs with Justice and the St. Louis Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and Labor-friendly elected officials.
TWO ISSUES: DEDUCTIBLES, PENSIONS
Ralph Wiltrout, a Local 618 shop steward who’s worked at the plant 17 years, said the strike against the company stems from two issues: an unjust healthcare change that would require out-of-pocket deductibles as high as $7,000 and a threat to take away member pensions.
“Ninety-five percent of our members and their families would never hit that $7,000 deductible,” Wiltrout said. “Valvoline is self-insured, and they can afford to help us out on deductibles or pay our premiums and they blocked that. We tried bargaining to get health insurance through our union, but they shot that down, too.”
Wiltrout said the company has stated that because the Teamsters Central States pension fund was in critical status, they wanted out of it and they were going to pay the unfunded liability.
“But now with the pension reform, it’s not an issue because it is fully funded,” he said.
The $1.9 trillion coronavirus pandemic relief package recently approved by Congress included $86 billion that will be used for grants to help shore up some of the nation’s most troubled pension funds.
(See related story: Collapsing union pension plans win long-sought help from rescue package.)
The 22 members on strike are employed at the plant as drivers, material handlers, packers, warehouse leads and blenders. They have been on strike since March 1 after several failed negotiations on the three-year contract and federal mediation.
DO NOT PATRONIZE
“We’ve had a couple meetings with mediators, but that’s been it,” Wiltrout said. “We are asking the public to avoid using Valvoline products or from patronizing stores or shops that use their products.”
Kevin FitzGerald, a retired Insulator’s Local 1 member who serves on the Missouri Jobs with Justice Executive Board, organized the March 26 event and said it’s important that all working people take a stand for the striking workers.
AFFECTS ALL OF US
“When anyone is on strike – union or non-union – it affects all of us,” he said. “If they win, we win, and if they fail, we all fail. We need to make a concerted effort to support these guys.”
Missouri Senator Doug Beck (D-Affton), president of the Missouri State Building and Construction Trades Council who also stopped by the strike line, agreed with FitzGerald.
“These guys are in the fight of their lives,” said Beck, a member of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562. “Their fight isn’t just for them, it’s for all working people.”
DONATE TO SUPPORT STRIKERS
St. Louis Treasurer and mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones also attended the event to support the workers and promoted raising money to assist the striking workers using CashApp.
“Many young people don’t carry cash, so using CashApp is the quickest way to raise money for the Teamsters to help they pay their bills and feed their families,” Jones said.
Anyone interested in donating can send cash to $Anderson63025 through the CashApp application. You can also send a check made payable to Ralph Wiltrout and mail it to him at 2694 Little Antire Road, High Ridge, MO 63049. He will add the money to the donations already collected.
In addition to donations, Wiltrout said Local 618 also welcomes assistance from fellow union members on the strike line and any other support they would like to provide.