Lockout keeps steelworkers outside Milbank KC plant; union and company work on a deal

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Almost 200 steelworkers are locked-out of a plant in Kansas City because they rejected a three-year contract.  Members of Steelworkers Union Local 1307 vow to stand outside the plant's gate until they're allowed inside.

The lock-out officially started Monday morning. Both sides say they don't see an end in the near future.

The union workers assigned to Milbank vowed to stand outside the gates of the plant from sun-up to sun-down until the union is satisfied with a new contract.

"We came to work, we got locked out!" the crowd chanted.

Rodrick Sparks acted as the spokesperson for the union on Monday because its president was involved in negotiations with the company.

Sparks has a wife and two children. He said standing outside the gates to his work is the last place he wants to be.

"What makes you think that I'd rather be standing in grass, losing my voice instead of working and making money so that my family will be able to have a great Thanksgiving," Sparks asked.

Without a contract, union members aren't allowed to work at Milbank. In fact, they're not allowed inside the plant gates. So, while they're outside, salary workers from departments like finance and engineering are inside keeping the production lines going.

This plant is currently shipping metal meter box sockets to the Northeast to Superstorm Sandy victims.

Sparks wants to be part of that production but doesn't think the proposed contract was fair.

"Now they want to take it from $455 to $620 per month to be able to say ‘Here's insurance." Sparks said, "Now, we're not talking about co-pays. We're not talking about deductibles. We're talking about premiums that are coming out of our hard-working check."

Sticking points for the union include health care, wages and a change to the attendance policy.

CEO Levon Winkler doesn't see any way around increased health care costs.

"You know as well as I, we've all experienced a consistent increase in health care expenses over the last several years," Winkler said.

"We feel strongly that what we had offered was really a competitive wage increases," he said, "as well as reasonable increases as far as their share of health care premiums, etc."

As for the change in control of the attendance policy, Winkler said last week the absentee rate at the Milbank plant in Kansas City was 25 percent. At the other plants, he said the rate is less than 5 percent.

Winkler said he'd like to see resolution, but neither side predicts a quick end to this lockout.

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