Truck drivers and gas cylinder fillers for industrial gas company Airgas have gone on strike in Rhode Island, US.

The move is said to follow Airgas’s refusal to consider its worker’s proposals for affordable healthcare and secure retirement during contract negotiations.

The striking Teamsters are members of Local 251 in the US state and supply gases to many of Rhode Island’s hospitals and facilities.

On 9th May, Airgas sent a letter to employees that violates federal labour law, which bans companies from negotiating union contracts directly with workers. In response, Local 251 filed an unfair labour practice charge with the National Labour Relations Board.

Airgas shop steward Carlos Salgado explained, “Our work earns huge profit for Airgas and [parent company] Air Liquide. Air Liquide earned $20bn last year – of which $2bn was pure profit.”

“Like all workers, we deserve a secure retirement and high-quality, affordable healthcare. We asked for a defined benefit pension plan as well as the affordable health plan the union workers at Airgas’ competitors have. Airgas refused to consider our proposals, so we are on strike – and now we have exercised our legal right to extend picket lines.”

According to gasworld Business Intelligence, Airgas was the second largest company in the US market in 2015, commanding revenues of $3.1bn. Rhode Island is in the New England region of the country, where Airgas led the market with a share of just under 40%.