2004-08-11 / Front Page
Benefit costs, coverage at heart of Nestle strike
BY CLARE MARIE CELANO
FREEHOLD — There’s no coffee being made in Freehold — not this week anyway, and anyone driving along Jerseyville Avenue will see why.
Union employees at Nestle USA, members of Teamsters Union Local 11, called a sanctioned strike on Aug. 2. According to union president Peter McGourty there are no products being made at the plant right now.
The Freehold division of Nestle produces Taster’s Choice instant coffee and Nestea ice tea.
According to McGourty, the strike was called after employees and management failed to reach agreement on a new contract. He said the key issue in the dispute concerns the company’s proposal of a national health care plan that employees believe leaves union workers out of the loop, prevents continuing negotiations between workers and management, and will cost workers much more than it has in the past to insure that their families have proper health care insurance.
"In the past we always had negotiations for health benefits and the cost sharing contributions workers would have to pay," McGourty said. "Nestle is trying to have all its employees across America under the same health plan. Since it is a national plan they cannot allow individual plants to negotiate for things."
McGourty said that under the name Nescare, the company is offering four different tiers of medical care and an HMO exclusive to this area.
"Every employee who works for Nestle will be put into this plan. The non-union workers are already in it. Whatever union sites are negotiating contracts now are going though this," McGourty said.
At present, there is no employment contract in place. The new proposed contract is a five-year deal, according to McGourty.
The talks which McGourty said took place over the last three months and covered 11 sessions ended on July 29. He said union members voted unanimously to reject the contract they believe will increase their employee contributions a great deal and not provide them with the healthcare benefits they had before.
Employees stand to see the tiered benefit plans increase their deductible for family coverage to between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on the type of plan they chose, according to McGourty. He said this includes the HMO plans, which previously had no deductible.
The cost of a member’s co-pay is also going to increase, according to the union president, and in some cases members would be required to pay double the amount for a co-pay than in the previous contract.
Health care plans took about 10 percent of a Nestle employee’s pay under the previous agreement. The proposed contract would see that contribution increase to between 16 and 24 percent in some cases, according to McGourty.
"They [Nestle] didn’t negotiate the higher prices with the increased benefits because although the benefits were better, the contributions were much higher. They imposed a plan that they felt workers would be more likely to chose because of the more affordable cost," McGourty said.
When asked if he thought Nestle employees would seek employment at a company that offered better benefits, McGourty said, "Most of my workers have spent their entire lives at that plant. Looking for another job is not the solution. What we need is a better plan."
McGourty said he is hoping to resume contract talks with management.
Nestle spokeswoman Yasmeen Muqtasid said employees rejected the company’s offer and elected to go on strike. She said at this time no further meetings have been scheduled.