One week after Airgas employees and union members protested the company's acquisition by France-based Air Liquide at its Houston headquarters, Cincinnati Airgas drivers and plant operation workers have voted unanimously to authorize a strike.
The workers, union members of Teamsters Local 100 in Cincinnati, voiced their opinions on Airgas' contract proposals that the union says would destroy job security and seniority, as well as remove workers' legal rights to honor picket lines.
"Our contract has been expired for three months. In contract negotiations, Airgas hasn't even responded to our modest economic proposals," Teamsters chief steward and negiation committee member Barry Perkins said in a release Tuesday. "If we go along with what Airgas is demanding, we'd be voting ourselves out of a job."
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has 1.4 million members throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
"AirGas is attacking its workers' fundamental workplace rights. The company has a loyal and dedicated workforce at the Cincinnati facility. There's no logical reason for the attacks," said Sam Bucalo, Business Agent with Local 100.
Air Liquide's $10.3 billion acquisition of Airgas – No. 9 on Industrial Distribution's 2015 Big 50 List – was announced in mid-November, and Airgas shareholders voted Feb. 23 to accept the offer. That same day, Teamsters issued a press release detailing their protest outside Air Liquide's U.S. headquarter in Houston, where Airgas employees held signs that read, "Air Liquide: Stop the Attacks."
"Air Liquide's acquisition, Airgas, has been abusing workers across America by locking them out during contract negotiations; threatening workers with loss of health care benefits and wages; and attempting to break its workers' unions by illegally threatening union activists," said Keith Gleason, Teamsters Tankhaul Division Director in Tuesday's release.
Gleason said the union has had a limited, but reasonable working relationship with Air Liquide.
"We have reached out to incoming management to keep the working relationship on track, but so far there has been no response," Gleason went on to say. "It's not responsible to employees or shareholders for Air Liquide to take a hands-off approach to the deteriorating labor relations at Airgas.
"The problem at Airgas extends across North America and is putting its business at risk, including current and future pipeline projects."
The strike is the latest in a longstanding string of confrontations between Airgas and Teamsters. Last July, long-term Airgas shareholder and Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall issued a letter to Airgas shareholders, urging them to withhold support from three independent board members who were standing for re-election and calling for those board members to resign.