Eight of the 10 workers from the East Greenwich Northeast Region facility of Airgas USA, the country’s leading single-source supplier of gases, welding equipment and related supplies, are entering their fifth week of striking in order to secure better healthcare benefits. They have been picketing in front of the Warwick Airgas supply facility at 522 Jefferson Blvd.
The strikers, represented by the Teamsters 251 Union, consist of gas fillers and transporters who work with various gases such as oxygen, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, hydrogen and chlorine, among many others.
“Almost every gas in the world we have exposure to,” said Don Sedgwick, one of those picketing.
The workers receive their health benefits through United Healthcare, and claimed to pay $200 a week. They said they have a personal $3,000 deductible, before Airgas begins contributing at 80 percent.
Although those on strike claim that mediation talks started out somewhat promising, within a couple weeks the talks have degraded significantly and replacement, non-unionized workers have been brought in to perform the work that is no longer being conducted.
“Airgas has and will continue to take additional measures to provide uninterrupted service to the customers served by all affected facilities,” the company said in a released statement. “It is our top priority to ensure ongoing excellent, safe and dependable customer service during labor negotiations and under all other circumstances. Local 251 represents a portion of the associates employed at the East Greenwich facility. Non-union associates employed at the East Greenwich location continue to report to work at the facility.”
According to those on strike – who mentioned that they were approaching three years at their facility without a safety incident on the job and includes one worker, Modesto Hidalgo, who was distinguished as the Northeast Region’s top-rated filler in 2015 – the employees that have replaced the union workers are not maintaining safe work habits.
Strikers have documented on their Facebook page “Airgas Teamsters at Air Liquide” (
@AirgasTeamsters), two different instances of replacement employees smoking cigarettes in potentially hazardous situations; once on video next a delivery truck (though it was unclear if the truck was loaded or not) and once next to a large assortment of gas canisters. Strikers said that such behavior was strictly against company policy.
Airgas was acquired by French company, AirLiquide, in 2015 for more than $10 billion, and reported revenues of $5.3 billion in Fiscal 2016. The company is now worth an estimated $22 billion between its European and American assets. Those on strike say that better healthcare benefits are something the company is more than capable of providing.
“All we want is better healthcare,” said Sedgwick. “We think that's reasonable.”
“Airgas continues to bargain in good faith with Local 251 in hopes of reaching an agreement, as we have done successfully with many other Teamster Locals across the country in the recent years,” continued the statement from Airgas. “We respect and value our 18,000 associates. Together, we are committed to reliably servicing our more than one million customers.”
Airgas refused to provide any further comments outside of the statement.
“If we're not talking we're not going to settle,” said Paul MacDonald, Legislative Director for Local 251. “It's all up to the company right now. We're willing to talk at any time.”