Union calls off
concrete talks

Teamsters officials refuse
to discuss a proposal about
medical premiums

The union for striking concrete workers has called off today's scheduled contract talks and will not resume negotiations until Ameron Hawaii takes its current medical premiums proposal off the table, according to company officials.

The condition, which Ameron officials say they cannot accept, is expected to stall talks and further drag out a month-long strike that threatens to cripple the state's booming construction industry.

George West, Ameron's vice president and chief negotiator, said yesterday that he "cannot agree not to talk about" health benefits -- an issue that has been the biggest obstacle to a new contract deal.

"It's unreasonable to remove the proposal before you talk about the proposal," he continued. "We're disappointed. If we're not talking, there's no hope."

Officials with Teamsters Local 996 declined to comment last night. But an assistant to Teamsters President Mel Kahele confirmed that the talks were canceled.

The union represents 144 Ameron workers walking picket lines since Feb. 6. The Teamsters are also negotiating a new contract for 67 unionized Hawaiian Cement workers, who went on strike Feb. 7.

Ameron and the union were scheduled to meet this afternoon at the Teamsters' headquarters in Kalihi.

The two sides last met Friday, and their talks ended with disagreement on the day's progress.

West had called those negotiations "encouraging," but Kahele said they were "only a waste of time."

The major sticking point centers on how much employees would pay for medical insurance premiums.

In their expired contract, unionized Ameron workers had a 20 percent medical insurance premium co-payment deducted from their after-tax paychecks.

The company now wants employees to pay a 30 percent premium, which would be taken out before taxes are subtracted from checks.

No new talks are scheduled between the union and Hawaiian Cement. Federally mediated talks between the two broke off Tuesday after five hours.

Kahele said that an executive from the company's parent company, North Dakota-based Knife River Corp., "pulled the plug" on the negotiations and "walked off the bargaining table."

Hawaiian Cement Vice President Michael Coad would not disclose the role of Bill Schneider, Knife River vice president for construction materials, saying he was included because he "brought some knowledge and expertise to the table."

Medical insurance premiums are also at the core of the Hawaiian Cement strike.

Hawaiian Cement has proposed that its concrete workers pay 20 percent of their medical insurance premiums. Currently, they pay none.

The company's proposal again included the 20 percent co-payment Tuesday but also had an undisclosed wage increase and changes to employee sick leave.


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