Timec recently announced that it would hire 350 workers in Billings under a contract with area refineries. Its presentation to the community led people to believe these were new jobs. They're not. The jobs already exist. They're good union jobs filled by trained, skilled Billings-area workers.
Timec's real plan is to replace the existing union jobs with nonunion positions. Following the announcement, Timec offered these jobs at half their union pay rate. Timec cut the health insurance from the standard union wage and benefit package to a benefit product workers can purchase out of the half-price wages paid by Timec.
Then, as a final blow to the dignity of Billings, Timec announced that their employees would welcome the opportunity to travel to work in different parts of the country. In other words, they also plan to hire out-of-state workers.
Thus, the Timec effect creates a lower wage standard, a reduction in workers with health coverage, 350 unemployed Billings workers, 350 struggling families looking for work or assistance, and a trail of Montana wages leaving with out-of-state workers on their way home. Who's standing up for Billings?
Unions raise wages for all workers by setting a livable standard of wages that causes all employers to compete for skilled workers. Through active involvement in regulatory processes, unions improve prevailing wage rates. Unions were the major supporters of the initiative that increased the minimum wage for 25,000 Montana workers.
Unions ensure that their workers have health insurance. They also support programs that offer health coverage to uninsured kids and universal health care for all. No one should lose everything because they get sick. More health coverage supports hospitals and clinics by ensuring that not only will union workers be able to pay their bills, but that all bills for services will be paid.
In Montana, 47 percent of nonunion workers have pension plans, compared with 80 percent of union workers. As elderly adults, these union members will be more financially secure. Self-sufficient retirees are a benefit to every community. They volunteer and contribute to local charities.
Union workers enjoy greater job safety. Most unions provide comprehensive OSHA training. This reduces lost work time, medical bills, disability and death. Job safety also means lower worker's compensation rates, which is good for business.
Yes, Billings workers are outraged that a socially destructive company like Timec was welcomed into town. But I call upon business owners, hospitals, insurance carriers, economic development groups, nonprofits, city leaders, the faith community and the refineries themselves. Take a stand. Demand better for Billings than what Timec has come to deliver.
Jim McGarvey of Helena is executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO.