On June 28, Honeywell locked out its union workers during contract negotiations because 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 costs to $8,500 a year. Good health-care coverage for retirees is especially important to uranium workers, who suffer rates of cancer ten times higher than the general public.
In November, over 100 workers traveled 1,000 miles to Honeywell's Morristown, New Jersey, headquarters hoping to meet with Honeywell CEO David Cote, but Cote refused to meet with them. Then, on December 1 in Washington DC, two leaders of the five-month lockout managed to get into the hearing room of the president's deficit commission to confront Cote about their job and retirement security. When the workers rose to confront Cote, they were quickly escorted out by security.
Union workers locked out by Honeywell demonstrate in Metropolis, Illinois last summer—photo from usw7-669.com
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, said that Cote's call to continue the Bush tax cuts while cutting Social Security epitomizes the greedy behavior of Cote. Lillie cited a report released 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.
Lillie challenged Cote's credibility at the hearing, 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. Indeed, with the lockout in its fifth month, Honeywell has spent more money keeping workers locked out at the Metropolis facility than it would have spent if it had given workers what they wanted. 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 would have cost the company $20 million over the life of the three-year contract.
Honeywell, though, is willing to bear any financial costs, or put the community at risk, because it aims to bust thousands of unionized workers. Honeywell has told other unions preparing for collective bargaining negotiations that they better accept what Honeywell wants or suffer the fate of the Metropolis workers, according to USW spokesperson John Paul Smith.
Many of the families affected by the lockout have already declared bankruptcy and fallen behind on car and house payments. Regardless, workers have vowed to last one day longer than the company.
Mike Elk is a labor journalist based in Washington, DC. He has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America's Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. He writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, AlterNet, and Truthout.