Locked out workers hit the road to support public workers under attack

Locked out workers at the Honeywell uranium processing plant in Metropolis, Illinois hit the road to show support for public workers under attack by state governors and other right-wing politicians. Meanwhile, Honeywell, which locked out its Metropolis union workers in June, was fined nearly $12 million for mishandling radioactive waste; for these and other misdeeds, the company rewarded its CEO Dave Cote with a 56 percent pay increase.

Members of the United Steelworkers Local 7-669, which represents the Metropolis Honeywell workers, travelled to Madison, Wisconsin in late February to attend one of the support rallies for public workers whose collective bargaining rights were under attack by Gov Scott Walker, one of a number of right-wing politicians who won state governor races last November.

A few weeks later USW Local 7-669 members were in Columbus, Ohio to support public workers whose rights were also under attack by Gov John Kasich, another right-wing politician.

“Many of my union brothers and sisters see the writing on the wall,” said Ozzie England, a locked-out Honeywell worker and a Local 7-669 member, who went to Madison and Columbus. “If public unions fall, these same senators, congressmen, and governors will be coming after the private sector.”

The next stop for Local 7-669 members is Iowa where rallies will be held on March 19 to protest Iowa Governor Terry Branstand’s proposals to limit public sector bargaining rights and revoke Project Labor Agreements that ensure that public construction projects are built safely and that construction workers on the project are treated fairly.

England said that a lot of voters bought the rhetoric of right-wing politicians, who last year said that if elected they would run government like a business. But what voters didn’t understand, said England, was that these politicians “want to run governments like a sweat shop.”

Meanwhile, Honeywell on March 14 pleaded guilty in federal district court to  illegally storing radioactive hazardous waste at its Metropolis plant, which “put  employees at risk of exposure to radioactive and hazardous waste,” said Cynthia Giles of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Honeywell was fined $11.8 million and put on probation for five years for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

The fine stems from a decision that Honeywell made in 2002 when it shut down a reclamation project used to safely dispose of contaminated potassium hydroxide (KOH), a chemical used to process uranium. The company shut down the reclamation process because it was too expensive. Instead of processing the deadly chemical to detoxify it, the company stored contaminated KOH  in steel drums at the Metropolis plant creating a health and safety risk for workers.

For exposing workers to hazardous material and refusing to bargain with workers in good faith, Honeywell CEO Dave Cote was rewarded with a 56 percent pay increase. Cotes salary went from $12.4 million a year to $19.3 million at the same time that Honeywell was telling its workers that “containing costs is everyone’s responsibility.”

 “Dave Cote, our CEO, recently gave himself a 56 percent pay raise, all the while preaching that employees need to share in the responsibility of keeping costs down,” England said. “He has tried to accomplish this by cutting health care benefits, pay, hours, and retirement payments to the workers who make the company money. His annual salary jumped from around twelve million a year to nineteen million a year, excluding bonuses.

“Something is very wrong with this picture, and all the while, people are getting word that around four hundred people in this country own around fifty percent of the wealth! I don’t know how many of you have ever gotten a 56 percent raise, but it is of little wonder how the rich get richer doing this.”

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