By Mike Elk
Locked out workers at Honeywell’s Metropolis, Illinois uranium facility have been traveling all over the country to meet with Honeywell CEO David Cote to discuss ending the current lockout.
On June 28, Honeywell locked out its union workers during contract negotiations because the union, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-669, refused to accept the company proposal to eliminate retiree health care and pension plans for new hires and increase workers’ out-of-pocket health care to $8,500 a year. Good health care coverage for retirees is especially important to uranium workers who suffer rates of cancer 10 times higher than the general public due to their daily interaction with radioactive material; thus, the workers refused to give in to demands to cut their retiree health care coverage entirely.
In November, over 100 workers traveled a thousand miles to Honeywell’s Morristown, N.J., Headquarters hoping to meet with Cote, but Cote refused to meet with them. On Wednesday, two leaders of the five-month lockout were in the hearing room of the President’s Deficit Commission to confront CEO David Cote about his desire to threaten their job and retirement security. However, when workers rose to confront Cote, they were quickly escorted out by security.
Workers say that Cote’s treatment of Honeywell’s workers is symbolic of his treatment of workers across the country. Darrell Lillie, USW Local 7-669 President representing 230 workers at the Honeywell uranium processing plant in Illinois Workers said that Cote’s call to continue the Bush tax cuts while cutting Social Security epitomizes the greedy self-interested behavior of Cote as CEO of Honeywell. Lillie cited a report released Monday by U.S. Chamber Watch, a non-profit research group that he says reveals Cote would personally stand to gain $1.2 million from the tax cut extension being promoted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Lillie challenged Cote’s credibility at the hearing with a statement, saying:
“We think it’s a joke that our CEO can serve on the Fiscal Commission while he has locked us out, hired hundreds of replacement workers to steal our jobs and now seeks to eliminate our pension plan.”
During the hearing, Cote said that “labor and business needed to work together” to solve the country’s economic problems. Locked out Honeywell worker Lindsey Horn wrote on Facebook:
“If Dave Cote is so interested in coming together with employers and laborers why is he not coming together with his own in Southern Illinois?”
Honeywell, according to local workers, has refused to engage in productive bargaining after five months of negotiations.
Indeed, with the lockout in its fifth month, Honeywell has spent more money keeping workers locked out at the Metropolis facility than it would be spending if it were providing the workers what they want. According to union officials, Honeywell has already spent or lost at least $48.8 million to keep the workers locked out over a four month period. By contrast, agreeing to workers’ demands that Honeywell maintain their current health and retirement benefits would cost the company only $20 million over the life of a three-year contract.
Honeywell, though, is willing to bear any financial costs, or put the community at risk, because it aims to bust the thousands of unionized workers in its employ. Honeywell has told other unions preparing for collective bargaining negotiations that they better accept what Honeywell wants or suffer the fate of Honeywell’s Metropolis workers, according to USW spokesman John Paul Smith. Honeywell is a corporation willing to do whatever it takes to prevent its workers from exercising their legal rights to organize and bargain collectively for decent wages and benefits.
Workers are hoping to settle these issues at the next scheduled negotiating session Dec. 13-14 in Metropolis. Many of the families affected by the five-month-long lockout have already declared bankruptcy and fallen behind on car and house payments. Honeywell workers are willing to work as long as Honeywell will allow. Regardless, the workers have vowed to push on and last one day longer than the company.
Mike Elk is a labor journalist based in Washington, D.C. A third-generation union organizer, he has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers; the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Also, Mike conducted research on barriers to communication between middle class and working class activists at the Instituto Marques de Salamanca in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout.
Follow Mike Elk on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MikeElk
Posted December 4, 2010 at 3:00 pm, in From the News