Tool company workers strike

August 25, 2009 (CHICAGO) Union employees with SK Hand Tool Corporation hit the picket lines Tuesday morning after, they say, their health insurance was taken away without warning.

The company says a third party is to blame. Officials with SK Hand Tool say the decision to remove the coverage for workers was beyond their control.

The strike affects about 70 workers in Chicago and McCook.

The company has been manufacturing tools in Chicago since 1921 and acknowledges a downturn in business. The union alleges, when the company stopped insurance, it was a violation of their contract. The union is pursuing action against the company. But Tuesday the workers took their stories public.

The strike at SK Hand Tools comes after months of negotiating for a new contract. During the negotiation, the union say, workers lost their health insurance.

"I couldn't believe it. We were all shocked," said David Biedrzycki, SK Hand Tool employee.

Workers say Emilio Lunar was the first to notice the company was not make its anticipated benefit contributions in May. Now he and his family are postponing any medical treatment.

"When you have something you don't realize how much you need it, but when you lose it you realize how much you need it," said Emilio Lunar, SK Hand Tool employee.

Dejan Gavatski couldn't wait. He says he was in the worst pain of his life and had to have a hernia operation a few weeks ago.

"The surgery was emergency. I had to take it. I decide to take it and now I have a bill for $20,000," said Dejan Gavatski, SK Hand Tool employee. "If you're making 13 or 14 dollars an hour, and you have a medical bill in the thousands, that can be very expensive," said Gina Alvarez, Teamsters Local 743.

SK Hand Tools makes tools for well known retailers. After several calls and visits to the company, SK e-mailed a press release, saying in part:

"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 our control. We intend on continuing negotiations with our union."

A spokesman for SK said SK did not choose to eliminate the health care; the health care provider cancelled the policy. But the spokesman would not say anything more about why the coverage was cancelled.

The two sides could resume negotiations as soon as Wednesday.

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