Here we go again. That is no doubt what many people are probably thinking as the Massac County community learned Saturday morning the United Steel Workers (USW) Local 7-669 employees were locked out from the Honeywell Metropolis Works plant after both sides failed to reach a new contract by Friday at midnight.
Saturday’s lockout is the second one in the last four years, as USW workers were locked out June 28, 2010 after the company and union members did not reach a contract agreement, leading to a lock out of union workers lasting over a year.
According to a news release from USW Spokesman John Paul Smith, at approximately 11:45 p.m. August 1, Honeywell management entered the bargaining room and offered a virtually unchanged proposal, despite the union offering a comprehensive counter proposal four hours earlier. When the Union’s negotiating committee declined to take the offer to the membership for a vote, the company notified the union they would be locked out of the plant effective immediately.
“Throughout the bargaining process we have, and remain committed to negotiating with Honeywell while our members continue to work. It now appears that Honeywell is not willing to do the same,” said Stephen Lech, USW Local 7-669 president.
In the press release issued by USW Saturday, Honeywell Plant Manager Jim Pritchett has said salary personnel will operate the plant. “Most who have no experience whatsoever in operating the facility,” said Smith, adding, “It’s unfortunate that the company wishes to put the community at risk and customer expectations in jeopardy when we are willing to continue to operate the plant while we work to reach a fair and equitable agreement.”
“Contrary to company statements the disagreement we face is not about money, it is simply about job security for our members,” Lech said.
USW District 7 Director Mike Millsap, along with Kevin Smith, international staff representative, have been with the local negotiating committee for this round of bargaining. “We stand with the bargaining committee and the membership 100 percent. The membership has given us a clear directive, and we have to protect their future,” said Millsap.
Smith said in a USW news release on July 31, Honeywell broke off negotiations with the union with a “last best and final” offer. “The union is disappointed in the company’s position and feels there is plenty of negotiating left to be done,” said Smith, pointing out the company’s proposal doesn’t address the union’s concerns over job security, healthcare, health and safety, and employee fairness, among many other issues.
“Our members simply cannot accept an agreement that doesn’t secure their jobs and ensure acceptable conditions,” said Lech.
In a press release Monday, Honeywell says the company remains disappointed that the members of USW Local 7-669 were never given an opportunity to vote on the company’s competitive and comprehensive six-year offer.
In an effort to reach a settlement, Honeywell doubled its wage offer to the union late last week - raising it from one percent to two percent per year over six years - contingent upon the union delivering a ratified agreement prior to contract expiration. That offer meant union members would get a 12.6 percent raise over the life of the contract. The raise would be guaranteed, according to Peter Dalpe, Honeywell company spokesman.
“The union workforce is already one of the highest-paid workforces in the region,” said Dalpe.
• When overtime and the cost of benefits are factored in, the average total compensation received by bargaining unit workers already exceeds $102,000 per year.
• Nearly half of Metropolis union workers make more than $80,000 per year, and 1 in 5 make more than $90,000 per year in wages - without factoring in their competitive benefits.
In contrast, the union has requested a 15.8 percent wage increase over the next three years, or five percent each year. The union says their decision to not allow the membership to vote on the company’s offer isn’t about money, yet their wage increase demand is much higher than what most American workers can expect, especially at locations like Metropolis that have suffered losses of $300 million over the past decade.
“The union wants to be very clear about this. This dispute is not about money, it is about job security,” said Smith, who says since the 2010 lockout Honeywell has systematically eliminated over 80 union positions that employed local people, in favor of out of town contractors.
According to Smith, the union has kept the membership educated throughout the bargaining process, making all company and union proposals available for their consideration.
“Our committee asked the membership if they would like the current proposal brought back for a vote and we were given a clear directive, to remain at the bargaining table until we reach an acceptable agreement. If anyone thinks that the union’s committee is holding this proposal from our members, they should talk to them. They will get the same message that they gave our committee,” said Smith, adding “Our members simply cannot accept a contract that does away with their jobs, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Smith also points out the union has made over 20 proposals that have gone unanswered. “Only one dealt with wages,” he said.
According to Dalpe, Honeywell shares the union’s concerns about job security, but believes the path to job security comes from investing in the plant’s safety and efficiency, and arriving at a commercially viable contract that doesn’t add excessive expenses and remove the flexibility the plant needs to be competitive. Honeywell has done more than talk about these concepts - the company has acted time and again to preserve good-paying jobs in Metropolis,” he said.
In 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission suspended operations at the Metropolis plant because of post-Fukushima safety requirements, which were imposed on all U.S. nuclear facilities. The company moved rapidly to invest more than $40 million on the necessary upgrades and to restart the plant after just 14 months. This action preserved 270 jobs in Metropolis, including 134 union positions that would have been lost otherwise.
These upgrades were part of $177 million that Honeywell has invested in the plant over the last 10 years in capital improvements, including more than $50 million in safety projects.
Honeywell’s contract offered reasonable parameters on subcontracting that would guarantee that subcontracting would not result in the layoff of union members. The terms proposed by Honeywell are similar to those in place under the previous contract.
“The union is asking for something very different. The union has demanded the immediate addition of 50 new union positions to the plant - which are not needed by the company and only increase costs. The union has also demanded guaranteed staffing levels that would never decrease,” said Dalpe.
According to Dalpe, if even one of the union positions were to become open, the company would immediately have to stop the use of all contractors, including those who do critical maintenance work at the facility. This would make the plant less safe, less competitive, and ultimately less able to support jobs in the Metropolis area.
“Rather than spending time pitching tents outside the plant, the union leadership’s attention last week would have been better invested in educating its membership on the company’s offer and allowing it to vote,” said Dalpe.
Smith emphasizes the union leadership did not put up the tents. “The members did that on their own,” he said.
According to Dalpe, the company is hopeful that when the two sides return to the table on Monday, Aug. 18, we can see constructive progress toward a new collective bargaining agreement that is fair to employees and good for the Metropolis facility. As soon as the union ratifies a new agreement, they will be welcomed back to work.
According to Dalpe, the Aug. 18 date was mutually agreed to the date to give time for each side to evaluate their position and was based on the availability of negotiators from both parties.
Of the 134 USW union workers at Metropolis’ Honeywell plant, 56 of those union workers reside in Massac County. During Monday morning’s Massac County commissioners meeting, the commissioners expressed concern over the lockout, saying the board hopes both sides will reach a contract soon. Commissioner Jayson Farmer said he hopes union workers will return to work, as they are trained and having trained workers operating the plant is safer for the community.