On August 25 at 5:30 am, members of Teamster Local 743 at SK Hand Tools Corp. in Chicago and McCook, Illinois set up their first pickets. SK forced the workers into a strike by eliminating health insurance for all 75 workers at the company without any prior notification. In fact, workers weren’t even aware that their coverage had been dropped until they received their paychecks in May and noticed that there were no deductions for health coverage!
The dropping of coverage was doubly surprising, as the company had been in negotiations with the union over a new contract since January. The union’s old contract expired in February and from that time until the workers’ insurance was dropped, health care had not been raised as a concern by the company once, according to Richard Berg, the Local’s president.
The company refused to meet with union representatives in May. They blamed an unnamed “3rd party” for making the decision to drop the coverage. In a statement, SK Hand Tools claimed, “The elimination of the coverage was not our choice; rather, it was due to a third-party’s decision to remove coverage, which was beyond [the company’s] control.”
But that’s not all. SK, whose workers have not had a wage increase in six years, is also demanding that the workers take a 20 percent wage cut in their new contract. They also demand an additional $4 per hour cut for the first six months of the new contract. As it stands now, the average wage of union workers at SK is just $14 per hour. That means that, should the company win its demands, the average wage of a worker for the first six months of the new contract will only be $7.20 per hour — below the legally-mandated minimum wage!
The aim of the company, therefore, is to reduce the living standard of nearly 100 skilled workers to that of the super-exploited workers in the fast food industry. The SK workers saw the company’s maneuver on health care and its contract proposals for what they were — a load of crap — and decided to strike in August.
As we go to press, over 20 days into the strike, the workers are still standing strong. We call on all our supporters to send messages of solidarity to Local 743 by visiting www.743teamsters.org or by sending messages to email@example.com  to be passed along. An injury to one is an injury to all!