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Posts Tagged ‘honeywell’

Honeywell Workers Get Rare Good News for Christmas

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Mike ElkFor the past several Christmases, workers at Honeywell’s uranium plant in Metropolis, Ill., have had little to celebrate. Most of the workers at the plant have spent the best part of four years in a series of labor struggles with the company: first a tense 13-month lockout ending in 2011, then post-lockout disputes in which the union alleged that the company failed to abide by the new contract, and then, in July of 2012, a yearlong shuttering of the plant that led to temporary layoffs of almost the entire union workforce.

This holiday season, however, the workers are finally getting something to cheer about—all of their jobs back, two days before Christmas.

Earlier this month, Honeywell’s new plant manager Jim Pritchett recalled the final 11 of the nearly 200 laid-off union workers—including the union local president, Stephen Lech. The last of the workers restarted their jobs on Monday, December 23. The union, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-699, is hoping that the recalls may be a sign of improved relations with Honeywell.

That relationship grew even more strained this summer, after Honeywell reopened the renovated plant in May. While the company began bringing back laid-off union workers in an order determined by lists negotiated with the union, it stopped with 21 workers still left on the list. Local 7-699 alleges that this was an attempt to avoid rehiring Lech, who was next in line.

Out of solidarity with the laid-off workers, some union workers refused to work overtime, saying the plant was understaffed and that Honeywell was using overtime to avoid filling the needed positions. In turn, Pritchett (then the plant’s operating manager), sent a memo in July canceling summer vacations for all workers because not enough overtime shifts were being filled.

On October 25, Local 7-699 filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, saying that Honeywell had “unlawfully, disparately, and discriminatorily failed and refused to reinstate from layoff, union president, Stephen Lech, because he engaged in protected, and concerted, and union activities.”

The NLRB was getting ready to hear the case when Honeywell settled. If the board had ruled in favor of the local and found that the refusal to reinstate was in retaliation for union action, Honeywell would have been legally liable for the back pay for the 21 workers who were not recalled during that six-month period. Lech estimates that the payment could have totaled more than a half a million dollars.

Some union activists say that the threat of legal action over the layoffs propelled Honeywell to finally readmit the last 21 workers to the plant. Honeywell did not return Working In These Times’ request for comment.

While Honeywell’s motives are unclear, what is clear is that this Christmas Eve, a lot of Honeywell workers in Metropolis, Ill., have reason to smile. The news of a victory gives union workers a much-needed morale boost as they head into what are expected to be contentious negotiations over their contract, which is set to expire this June.

“I’m excited about it,” says Lech of the rehirings. “We’ve fought hard against Honeywell for the last four years, and this is a huge victory for us.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on December 23, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.

Honeywell Plant Freezes Summer Vacations

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Mike ElkAt a time of year when many workers are taking family vacations, uranium workers at Honeywell’s plant in Metropolis, Ill. won’t have that option. On July 27, the company announced a vacation freeze. United Steelworkers Local 7-669, which represents workers at the plant, claims that the decision is just another salvo in a three-year-long battle by Honeywell to bust the union.

Honeywell is currently in the process of rehiring several hundred operations workers at the uranium plant who were laid off in July of 2012 when the plant shut down for earthquake-safety improvements requested by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Earlier this year, Honeywell began slowly rehiring the laid-off workers—both hourly union employees and non-union salary employees—to restart the plant. Now all but 21 of the 200 union employees have been rehired as the plant moves toward full operationality. But instead of rehiring the final 21 union workers, Honeywell is proceeding short-staffed and calling in workers on their days off to make up the gap.

In order to put pressure on the company to rehire the 21 laid-off union members, some union employees are refusing to work any overtime (and passing up the time-and-half pay). In response, Honeywell announced that because of the staffing shortage, no workers can take a vacation this summer.

In a July 27, 2013 email to employees, Honeywell Metropolis Operating Manager Jim Pritchett wrote:

Effective immediately, all vacations are cancelled and no further vacations are to be granted in operations including individuals’ days—that includes all hourly and salaried staff. The purpose is to assure we are staffed to support operations and to continue to get the remaining units on line so we can support our customers. … I am disappointed it has gotten to this but we have no choice due to employees not responding to call ins and taking care of their responsibilities…. This vacation freeze will be lifted as soon as the business needs of the plant are being effectively met by people coming when they are called.

The union speculates that Honeywell has an ulterior motive for not hiring the remaining 21 workers: It doesn’t want to rehire Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech. Under the union contract, Honeywell is obligated to rehire all of the laid-off union employees according to a mutually agreed upon list developed according to workers’ qualifications and seniority. The next person on the list is Lech.

“It’s directly targeting me for my work as union president,” says Lech, who thinks that Honeywell is trying to send a message about the length that the company is willing to go to crush the union.

The union says that instead of following the list, Honeywell has told the final 21 workers that they must compete against outside applicants and reapply for their jobs as if they were new hires directly off the street.

“It’s a violation of the contract,” Lech says. “How can Honeywell do it? Well, Honeywell does whatever they want.”

“It will take six months before the case even gets before an arbitrator and another six months before the arbitrator rules,” he says.

Workers are refusing overtime in the hopes that they can resolve the issue sooner. Many were planning family vacations and were outraged by the vacation moratorium.

“It’s a morally bankrupt company that punishes their employees for staffing shortages it created out of spite,” reads a text message to Working In These Times by one Honeywell employee who wished to remain anonymous for fear of being fired. “Two years ago we took their lousy contract and they’re still kicking us.”

Honeywell did not respond to request for comment for this piece.

Lech says that despite being laid off, he is undeterred from his work for the union.

“This absolutely will not stop me from doing my job,” says Lech. “Heck, I got more time than ever to work as union president.”

This article originally appeared on Working In These Times on August 12, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.

Amid ‘Sabotage’ Investigation, Honeywell Lays Off Plant’s Entire Union Workforce

Friday, May 18th, 2012

mike elk

Last Thursday, May 10, at around 2 p.m., managers walked into Honeywell’s uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., and told workers—both union and nonunion—they had to leave the plant immediately. Multiple workers present say a manager explained the sudden dismissal by noting that the company had to investigate “sabotage” of plant equipment.

Since May 10, Honeywell has allowed 100 of 170 nonunion salaried workers to return to work, and has allowed 90 of its 100 nonunion contactors to continue working in the plant. But none of the plant’s 168 hourly union employees have been allowed to return to work—the company has informed them that they’ve been laid-off indefinitely. All laid-off union workers were immediately left without pay and health insurance. In contrast, when Honeywell locked out USW union workers in June 2010, it waited nearly three months to cut off their health insurance.

The Metropolis plant is no stranger to contentious labor relations. In 2010 and 2011, it  was the scene of a tense 13-month long lockout of United Steelworker (USW) members. That dispute was resolved last fall when the union ratified a new contract. Since then, however, the work environment has been tense; several key USW Local 7-669 leaders have been fired by Honeywell. Local 7-669 leaders say Honeywell is trying to bust the union.

For many workers, the order by management to leave the plant felt like lock-out déjà vu. “I have been through a lockout and it felt like this. If this isn’t a lockout, I don’t know what it is,” Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech says.

But unlike a lockout—a tactic companies sometimes resort to when contract negotiations have stalled—laid-off union members cannot picket the worksite location. If the union did so, a company can claim that the union is engaged in an “illegal strike” and the union would then be subject to heavy fines. Lech says the union is looking into all legal options and being very careful.

“I would not suggest that company would create a circumstance to frame the union, but if they were presented with a circumstance, I know they would love to find a way to use it somehow against the union,” Lech says.

The sudden layoffs may be a violation of their contract language, he says. The contract states that Honeywell must give workers at least five days notice of any layoffs. Metropolis workers were given no notice. “If the circumstance allows it, we will certainly picket and go down the road of action,” says Lech.

Asked Wednesday whether or not the lay-offs were legal, Metropolis plant manager Larry Smith hung up. Honeywell, which is based in New Jersey, did not respond to further request for comment. Company spokesman Peter Dalpe told the Chicago Tribune that he “can’t comment on the specific damage, but added that the equipment was not operational.” Dapel also told the Tribune “that the company intends to resume production after it assesses the damages and inspects the plant.”

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the plant, told the Chicago Tribune, “We are standing by watching their investigation and we will do our own follow up.”

This blog originally appeared in In These Times on May 17, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

OSHA Fines Honeywell, Citing 17 ‘Serious Violations’ at Uranium Facility

Friday, July 1st, 2011

mike elkFederal action comes almost exactly one year after USW members were locked-out of Illinois plant by international company

When union workers were locked out over a year ago at the Honeywell uranium facility in Metropolis, Ill., they warned that the unskilled scabs being brought into the plant would cause accidents at the uranium enrichment facility due to their lack of experience. Despite these warnings, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified the workers as being qualified to operate the plant, and it has continued to operate.

Since then, a very loud explosion has been caused at the plant last August, a small amount of lethally toxic UF6 was released last September, and a very large release of the toxic HF gas occurred in late December that set off alarms and troubled local community members. Locked-out union workers, members of United Steelworkers Local 7-699, claimed that the scab replacement workers running the plant were unqualified and should not be allowed to run it.

They cited an NRC report from last November, which showed that Honeywell cheated on initial safety qualification reports for its workers. The NRC claimed that after the cheating on the tests was discovered all workers were retested and passed after being retested.

USW Local 7-669 members put up mock tombstones around the Honeywell uranium enrichment facility in Illinois to demonstrate the damage done by the lockout.

USW Local 7-669 members put up mock tombstones around the Honeywell uranium enrichment facility in Illinois to demonstrate the damage done by the lockout.

But a new citation against Honeywell from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) bolsters their claim that the Honeywell uranium facility is being run unsafely. Last Wednesday, OSHA cited Honeywell with 17 separate “serious violations” that could have resulted in death or serious harm and fined Honeywell $119,000 for the accidental release of HF gas in December.

The federal agency defines a “serious violation” as occurring “when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.” According to OSHA the 17 serious violations they were cited for included:

Violations include allowing cylinders to be exposed to physical damage; having inaccurate field verifications on tanks and values; using equipment that was not in compliance with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices; failing to have clear written operating instructions for processes such as unloading hydrogen fluoride into storage tanks and switching storage tanks; failing to address human factors in relation to remote operating valves on the hydrogen fluoride storage tanks; failing to document and resolve issues addressed by the process hazard analysis team; failing to establish written procedures to maintain the integrity of process equipment; failing to implement written emergency operating procedures for emptying hydrogen fluoride tanks; failing to perform appropriate checks and inspections to ensure equipment was properly installed; and failing to establish and implement written procedures to manage changes to process chemicals, equipment and procedures.

The company also was cited for a deficient incident report that did not include factors contributing to the vapor release and the recommendation resulting from the internal investigation.

The violations that OSHA cited Honeywell for at the uranium plant has troubled many in the local community, who worry that a release of toxic gas could kill nearby residents. Speaking at a rally marking the one-year anniversary of workers being locked-out from the Honeywell uranium facility, Metropolis, Ill., Mayor Billy McDaniel, said he was so worried about the safety conditions that “There are times when I have trouble sleeping at night.”

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request a meeting with OSHA, or contest the citation in front of an independent OSHA Review Commission. Honeywell Spokesman Peter Dapel did not return phone calls requesting comment from the company.

Union workers say the new safety violations cited by OSHA are even more evidence that Honeywell needs to settle the lockout. “The OSHA violations further validate what we’ve said all along. The members of this local union are the guardians of safety in the plant, and left to themselves, Honeywell will not ensure a true culture of safety first,” says union spokesman John Paul Smith.

This blog originally appeared in These Working Times on June 28, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times as well as Alternet, The Nation, The Atlantic and The American Prospect.

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