Workers and Community Supporters March in the Footsteps of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Demand Affordable Health Care, Living Wages and Respect for Their Union Rights
(WHITAKERS, N.C.) – Cummins workers and their union representatives participated in the annual Whitakers MLK Day March and other Martin Luther King Jr. commemorations last weekend to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to demand that Cummins stop medical discrimination against workers in its Rocky Mount plant and much of its U.S. workforce.
At the annual MLK Day March on Monday, workers from Cummins, Inc.’s Rocky Mount, N.C. engine plant who are members of Local 150 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers’ (CAAMWU-UE) Union marched together with Teamster-represented workers from Cummins’ facilities in Charleston and Fairmont, West Va. They were also joined by a representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Union. The marchers held banners that said, “Cummins: Stop Medical Discrimination.”
Since 2011, Cummins has shifted nearly all its employees into an extremely high-deductible health plan that costs $6,000 upfront for families before co-insurance kicks in, and is designed to keep people from seeking medical care.
“Cummins is trying to force us out of our low-cost, quality union health plan, and into the company’s own high-deductible insurance, even though it won’t provide us the inexpensive primary care services it makes available to its white-collar headquarters staff in Indiana. This is wrong,” said Jimmy Roberts and Brian Quick, members of Teamsters Local 175 and union stewards at Cummins shops in Charleston and Fairmont, West Va.
“Our members are about to see their annual medical deductibles jump nine-fold, from $700 up to $6,000 for family healthcare. Their out-of-pocket maximums could be as high as $22,000, and they would also lose access to their free, union-run health clinic in Charleston. Our members in Fairmont have been working without a contract for nearly two years, as Cummins ignores workers’ demands and tries to illegally impose its unaffordable and destructive health plan,” said Luke Farley, business agent for Teamsters Local 175.
Cummins is the country’s leading diesel engine manufacturer, with $17.5 billion in sales in 2016. It employs 1,350 workers at its Rocky Mount plant, 70 percent of whom are African-American.
During the weekend’s commemorations of Dr. King, Cummins workers and their community supporters reiterated that affordable healthcare, a union and good pay are human rights. They also revisited the memory and legacy of Dr. King, who was a champion of workers’ rights, unions and broad economic equality.
“Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane,” Dr. King once said.
High-deductible health insurance plans have been deemed “particularly inappropriate for children” by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and shown to drastically cut the use of all care—even free, preventive and necessary medical care. Americans under high deductible plans also find their finances put in jeopardy. They report cutting back on essentials such as food and clothing, and experience decreasing savings and fall behind on their bills.
A recent survey of Rocky Mount Cummins workers showed that more than 83 percent of respondents faced problems paying medical bills in the last three years, nearly two-thirds have skipped medications and over a third postponed or skipped getting the health care they needed.
At the MLK Day commemorations in Whitakers, local Cummins workers who are members of CAAMWU-UE Local 150 testified about the human rights crisis at Cummins. Members and representatives from the Teamsters and IAM—both of which represent workers at several Cummins locations—also talked about the effects of exorbitant health care costs.
CAAMWU-UE 150 and Teamsters Local 175 have been campaigning together to lower health care costs for all Cummins workers. In 2017, worker protests forced the company to increase its contributions to workers’ health savings accounts, and to decrease out of pocket maximums for lower-paid workers.
“While this is progress, Cummins is still just tinkering at the margins of its unaffordable medical plans. Cummins workers need more improvements to secure truly affordable health care for ourselves and our families,” said Jim Wrenn, President of CAAMWU-UE 150 and an employee at Cummins Rocky Mount.
The Teamsters and UE have been demanding that Cummins (1) reduce its high health care deductibles; (2) make annual health savings account contributions in amounts that match its health insurance deductibles; and (3) extend to all Cummins workplaces the medical services and pricing equivalent to those provided to its headquarters employees in Columbus, Ind. through the Live Well primary care center.
“Many workers do not go to the doctor. Workers and family members get sicker or go into debt. They deserve better. When we heard the company had opened its “Live Well” primary care center for its headquarters staff in Indiana, and we saw the inexpensive price chart, we realized it was unfair for the rest of us. As Cummins workers in North Carolina, we want and deserve to ‘Live Well’, too,” Wrenn said.
“Health care discrimination against our Cummins members, and all our brothers and sisters across Cummins must stop,” said Craig Norman, Collective Bargaining Director of the International Association of Machinists. “We expect fair and equal treatment. Cummins just signed the United Nations Global Compact, which commits it to respect fundamental human rights, including the right to affordable, accessible and complete health care. Cummins is in clear violation of its commitments.”
“This is a common struggle that unites not just all Cummins workers, but all of us who are facing unreasonable and unacceptable costs of health care,” said Nathanette Mayo, President of UE 150, the union’s statewide North Carolina local.
“America continues to face a health care crisis of staggering proportions. Health care is a fundamental human right, and our country can afford and must provide health care to everyone,” said UE General President Peter Knowlton. “But let’s be clear, profitable corporations like Cummins cannot be let off the hook. Cummins has profited from massive tax cuts from Congress and tax subsidies at the local level, even as it has been cutting their employees off of good health protections. Cummins is violating the spirit of Dr. King, today and every day.”
Monday’s march ended at the Bloomer Hill Community Center in Whitakers, where participants attended the 28th Annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration. Keynote speaker Esterine Pitt, mayor of Whitakers, spoke about unions, fair wages and health care all as human rights.
At the celebration, Teamsters Local 175 members received special recognition for their work with UE 150 in bringing more Cummins workers together to stand up for the fundamental human rights of their co-workers and their communities.
For more information about this event and the overall campaign for affordable family health care and workers’ rights and living standards at Cummins see Facebook: Cummins Awful Truth.