Concrete mixer drivers on strike in Pocatello, Blackfoot over proposed benefit changes
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POCATELLO — Mixer drivers at two eastern Idaho concrete plants, in Pocatello and Blackfoot, have gone on strike.
The strikes at Pocatello Ready Mix, in Pocatello, and Horrocks Ready Mix, in Blackfoot, are the result of failed contract negotiations between the drivers’ union and the owner of the companies, according to Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 983 Jessica Prather.
“The company is proposing to get rid of their teamster insurance and pension, that they’ve had for almost 50 years,” Prather told EastIdahoNews.com.
The Pocatello plant alone delivers between 500 and 1,000 cubic yards of concrete daily, meaning drivers regularly work 12-plus-hour shifts. For the time being, however, the onus of those deliveries has fallen on the management of the companies.
EastIdahoNews.com called Pocatello Ready Mix for comment, but because management has been forced to drive mixers, the company was not in a position to provide comment.
As Prather explained, the union and company negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement each year, since establishing a contract in 1974. But this January, the company’s offer drastically increased insurance costs and included the loss of union employee pension.
“We’re really just fighting to keep what we have, they’re really just trying to take away what we have,” mixer driver Patrick Francois said. “They’re saying, ‘forget your money, it’s gone.'”
The idea was tabled once before, about 10 years ago the drivers said. But it was quickly denied and removed from negotiations. Now, it is back. And company owners are refusing to budge and, as Prather said, trying to “force (the new deal) through.”
Union membership is optional at both plants, with some employees deciding against membership.
Prather and the other striking drivers in Pocatello believe that these stiff negotiations are an attempt by ownership to dismantle the union at the two facilities.
“We believe that they’re trying to get rid of anything attached to the union and the union’s presence,” Prather said.
That opinion is backed up by an offer recently hired drivers are receiving.
According to Tony Crombie, who is part of the strike despite being hired just two weeks ago, new hires are being offered a $10,000 bonus if they deny union membership. Employees that take the offer though, are then finding out that they will not receive their bonus until a new deal is reached with the unionized employees.
Prather is hopeful that the owner will be willing to return to the negotiation table quickly. But, she added, the drivers, who voted unanimously against the offer then unanimously in favor of the strike, are willing to remain on strike until a new deal is reached.
“This is a great place to work, they just don’t want to negotiate with the union,” driver Asya Acosta Vigil. “We had no choice but to stand up.”
“They’re not asking for a bunch more money, they just want to keep the benefits that they have,” Prather added. “At the end of the day, these guys love this company, and love driving mixer trucks. They want to go back to work.”
Asked how non-employees can help their cause, Acosta Vigil said that some people have dropped off food and drinks at Pocatello Ready Mix.
“They can come join us if they want, anybody who wants to, we’ll be here,” she said.