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Hundreds Of Union Members Picket Kohler Co.

Union Workers Rejected Company's Latest Contract Offer

Royalbroil (CC BY-SA 2.5)

About 2,000 union members at the Kohler Co. went on strike on Monday morning after the workers overwhelmingly rejected a company contract offer and agreed to the walkout this weekend.

Hundreds of union workers marched from their union hall to the company’s facilities to begin picketing outside the gates of the company’s facility. It marks the first time a strike has happened at the Sheboygan-area plumbing and hospitality company since 1983.

About 1,800 workers attended the United Auto Workers Local 833 membership meeting on Sunday. Union officials said that 94 percent of voting members rejected Kohler’s latest offer.

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Workers have taken issue with what they call an inadequate pay increase, higher health care costs and the continuation of a two-tier wage scale.

Local union President Tim Tayloe acknowledged that large strikes have become less common, and that this one might be difficult.

“A strike is never an easy thing, but at some point in time, a line has to be drawn in the sand. Enough is enough,” he said.

Tayloe said that the rank and file are concerned about rising health insurance costs and lower pay for newer workers — two points agreed to in a contract five years ago. That deal also froze wages.

Picketing outside the Kohler Company Monday, worker Bob DeMers said the pay raise the company proposed was too small.

“Well, they give you the raise but then they take it away in the insurance,” he said. “The insurance has raised their deductibles so much that you’re not going to see the raise and at the end of the three years you’ll be right back where you were before.”

Kohler officials had called for three raises of 50 cents each — about 2 percent a year — for most of its workforce. The offer raised health care costs, but included a $1,200 bonus that the company said could cover the increase.

Officials with the company, which makes plumbing fixtures and electrical generators, said they’re very disappointed in the strike and have a plan to continue production.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from a Kohler employee.