Steelworkers employed by Carmeuse Lime and Stone at the Black River Operation in Pendleton County banded together Wednesday to express dissatisfaction with current safety and health conditions in the mines, as well growing concerns over a potential change in health insurance.
"We're just telling them that we ain't going to let them push us around this time," said James Bravard, one of the steelworkers picketing in front of the French Quarter Inn in Maysville.
About 20 workers showed up to express their feelings, displayed on signs demanding better conditions, full insurance and fairness to all employees. They chose a site outside of the hotel to coincide with collective bargaining negotiations taking place between Carmeuse Lime and the United Steelworkers inside.
Bravard said the steelworkers' current contract expires May 23, and management has until that time to complete an acceptable contracting deal.
Primarily, Bravard and others seemed concerned about suggested changes in insurance, including lessening the percentage of costs covered by the insurance. According to a statement released by Carroll Laufmann, vice president of Kentucky Operations for Carmeuse, the Black River hourly employees are the only employees in the U.S. Carmeuse family who have not yet moved from a 100 percent coverage plan.
"Over the past three years, Carmeuse has taken this difficult step to address the double digit increases to the medical costs affecting every individual and company nationwide," Laufmann said in the statement. "Our goal as a company has always been to provide comparable benefits to our employees and at the same time allowing Carmeuse to remain competitive in our markets."
While insurance is a primary concern, other concerns include health and safety issues, as well as fair treatment of employees. Mike Jones, one of a team of several negotiators, said there are an inadequate number of restroom areas for the workers, who must travel from their work site quite a distance. They also do not have hot water in the mine lunchrooms.
Some of the signs bore names of two former employees Bravard said were fired without just cause. Several people said employees do not always receive equal treatment. Jones said some who commit major infractions receive only a slap on the hand, while those who commit minor infractions may be fired.
In one case, a 60-year-old woman who had worked for the company 26 years was fired. Jones said the woman was elderly and had some health issues, so an accident was allegedly used as an excuse for her to be fired.
In a second case, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Special Forces was fired, again for causing some damage to company equipment, costing less than $1,000, Bravard estimated. He said the veteran had been employed there several years as well.
There will be a union arbitration over the firing of those two employees Friday.
"Everybody has accidents, if you've been there so long," Bravard said.
Bravard mentioned another concern regarding the sub-contracting of jobs, many of which Bravard said employees could do.
Ritchie Cunningham, who has worked at the company for more than nine years, said he hoped their statements would help the management realize how serious they were in their negotiations.
"Hopefully, this will open their eyes up," he said. "We just want to be treated equally."
"We're hopeful that the United Steelworkers will help us find a solution that works for our employees and the company," Laufmann said in the statement.
Contact Misty Maynard at email@example.com or call 606-564-9091, ext. 274.