United Steel Workers Local 7-669 last week ratified a contract with Honeywell that ended a lock out that lasted more than a year. “We fought one-day longer on all the core issues and won them to our satisfaction,” said Darrell Lillie, president of Local 7-669. “All of us who were locked out by Honeywell in June of last year who want to go back to work are doing so with union pride, a union contract, and union solidarity.”
Honeywell locked out about 230 union workers at its Metropolis, Illinois uranium processing plant last year after they refused to accept a new contract that would have made big cuts to workers’ and retirees’ health care benefit, reduced overtime pay, gutted seniority, and made their pension less secure. The new contract protects the health care benefit for both current and retired workers and maintains seniority rights and overtime pay. Workers keep their defined benefit pension plan, but new workers will be shunted into a defined contribution plan.
All of the locked out workers who want to return to work will do so later this month. Only a handful of the original locked out workers have taken other jobs and will not return. A tentative agreement was reached in July, but the union refused to ratify it until it concluded an agreement that ensured that all locked out workers who wanted to return would be allowed to do so.
The key to protecting the workers’ health care and other union benefits was the solidarity that the workers demonstrated during the bitter ordeal. During the year of the lock out, workers maintained their picket lines at plant entrances and participated in outreach efforts designed to win community support and the support of other workers.
The small band of workers at the Honeywell Metropolis plant also received international support in their fight with the multi-national, billion dollar corporation. “We formed a global labor coalition of organized Honeywell workers in the US and Europe,” said Jim Robinson, USW District 7 director. ” The company got the message and finally got serious about putting together a deal we could take to our locked out members.”
One of the things that European unions did was to organize a letter-writing campaign expressing their solidarity with the Metropolis workers. A letter from the European Metalworkers Federation said that its members who work for Honeywell in Europe “have agreed to support our fellow workers (in the USA) using all possible means” unless Honeywell ends the lock out, restores the locked out workers’ jobs, and signs a fair contract.
“When those letters of support starting coming in from outside of the USA, Honeywell threw a fit,” Lillie told Morning Star Online. “They stopped saying: ‘No, no, no’ and began to listen. Global solidarity worked.”