Employees at the GAF shingle manufacturing plant in North Minneapolis said they were so roiled over a company plan to end spousal benefits by 2013  that they voted to walk off the job earlier this week. 

The employees, who are members of the Teamsters Local 970, voted 30 to 28 in favor of striking on Friday, Oct. 7. 

Managers escorted workers off the factory floor after subsequent talks broke down Monday afternoon. The union, which has 80 employees at GAF's Minneapolis plant, have taken turns picketing in front of the building since then. Union employees said they are upset that the company wants to end health insurance benefits for all spouses who are able to get the insurance through their employers.

Scott Gelhar, head of the Local 970, said the union proposed a cheaper insurance plan but that the company turned it down. He added that the wives of 24 employees would be excluded from the company insurance if  the measure was forced through. GAF officials have since offered to exclude the spouses from policies effective Jan. 1, 2013, instead of 2012, but the workers turned down that offer, Gelhar said.

Alyssa Hall, spokeswoman for GAF Materials Corp., said  the parent company was "ready, willing and able" to meet with the union to continue discussions. "Our primary concern is to negotiate a fair contract that gives to our employees certainty, and that also puts us in a position to meet all of the changing demands of the current marketplace."

The small battle being waged in Minneapolis is representative of sweeping changes taking place in corporations across the nation. Many companies began phasing out spousal benefits six years ago as a way to reign in rising health care costs.

Still, union workers at the Minneapolis plant said that they found the measure unfair, especially since many of the workers had worked at the facility for more than a decade and had always provided for their spouses. It remains unclear when the impasse will settle.

GAF is a subsidiary of GAF Materials Corp, which supplies roofing shingles and other building products to Home Depot stores across the country.


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