Blind World Magazine

Teamsters on strike at the American Printing House for the Blind.

November 30, 2005.
Louisville Courier-Journal, Kentucky.

Martha Berry described the American Printing House for the Blind as "a nice place to work," but she joined more than 100 fellow Teamsters who went on strike yesterday after contract negotiations failed.

Health insurance premiums are increasing and "we're not making enough to cover it," said Berry, a production worker who said she has been with the printing house for five years.

The printing house, at 1839 Frankfort Ave., is still producing books and educational materials, but officials said the strike will slow delivery.

The nearly 140 Teamsters make up about 40 percent of the plant's work force, a company vice president said. It's the second strike by members of Teamsters Local 89 since some of the printing house's workers unionized in 1981.

The first strike in 1987 lasted three weeks, said Kathy Peak, a union steward who has worked at the printing house for 30 years. "This is not what we want," she said as she picketed along Frankfort Avenue with Berry. "We wanted a fair contract."

The most recent contract expired Nov. 15. Union President Fred Zuckerman said negotiations were extended two weeks to Sunday. "We made the extra effort to try to get this thing resolved," he said.

Union officials said agreements could not be reached in negotiations on three major areas -- salaries, health insurance premiums and vacation.

Gary Mudd, vice president for public affairs for the printing house, declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations. "We truly want to resolve the thing as quickly as possible and get back to work," Mudd said.

The not-for-profit printing house, founded in 1858, produces textbooks and other educational materials for the visually impaired. The printing house serves about 60,000 people throughout the country.

Asked if the union was worried about appearing unsympathetic by striking a company that serves the blind, Zuckerman noted that several of the strikers are visually impaired. Union members work at the printing house in proofreading, binding, shipping, housekeeping and maintenance.

Peak said about 11 union members crossed the picket line and went to work yesterday. Mudd confirmed that some members were at work, but he declined to say how many.

Union employees make an average of about $11 an hour, union officials said. Mudd said the average is between $11 and $12.

Proposed raises were 60 cents an hour the first year, 35 cents an hour the second year and 25 cents the third.

Union members and leaders said those raises wouldn't be enough to offset proposed increases in health insurance. Family health insurance would go to $272 a month from $235, and more increases could raise the monthly premium to between $336 and $471 a month, according to union officials.

Mudd said the company is still negotiating its health-insurance premiums. "Basically, they're trying to kill the family" insurance, said picketer Rita Hayes, a Braille transcriber who has worked at the printing house for 17 years.

Also, union officials said the company wants to be able to force employees to take up to a week of vacation during an annual routine shutdown. Members could only be forced to use two days of vacation under the previous contract, said Robert Colone, a staff attorney for the union.

Both Mudd and union officials said no negotiations have been scheduled.

End of article.

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