Momentive workers strike against more concession demands

Striking workers stood their ground as a busload of temporary replacement workers inched through the strikers’ picket line at the Momentive Performance Materials chemical plant in Waterford, New York, 11 miles northeast of Albany.

More than 600 workers, members of IUE-CWA Local 81359, began their strike at noon on November 2 after negotiations between the union and company broke down.

As soon as the strike began, Momentive started busing in strike breakers.

The fact that Momentive would try to keep production going at a chemical plant where complicated machinery and an intricate piping system process tons of quartz and silicon  was an ominous sight to John Ryan.

Ryan, a 26-year Momentive worker, told the Waterford Daily Gazette that the use of untrained, inexperienced workers posed a threat to the community at large.

“They just brought replacement workers in,” said Ryan to the Gazette as the bus finally made it through the gate. “It shows how very little they care about the community of Waterford and the workers. Just a couple years ago [the site] blew two people up. They were in the hospital and almost died. If it wasn’t for our workers who did the brigade work to save their lives and get them to the hospital, they’d be dead. They bring these guys in here and put Waterford in jeopardy. They’re going to be running equipment that they can barely run when we’re in there. . . . Well, it shows how little they care about us and the community of Waterford. They just care about their pockets.”

Momentive is a chemical company that makes silicon and quartz products used in sealants, adhesives, caulk, semiconductors, and consumer electronics.

The strike began after workers rejected a company proposal that would have severely cut their health care and pension benefits.

This wasn’t the first time that Momentive demanded concessions from its workers.

The company’s concessionary demands began shortly after Apollo Global Management, one of the world’s largest private equity companies, bought General Electric’s advanced materials plant in Waterford in 2006 and renamed it Momentive.

To finance the deal, Apollo borrowed $3.8 billion strapping its new company with more than $4 billion in debt.

About the same time that Apollo bought Momentive, it was purchasing other companies. For example, Apollo bought Claire’s Stores for $3.1 billion in 2007. In 2008, it and another private equity firm, bought what is now called Caesars Entertainment for $8 billion.

Apollo borrowed heavily to make these and other purchases, and the companies that Apollo purchased were responsible for repaying Apollo’s heavy debt load.

As Apollo was loading up its newly purchased companies with large amounts of debt, the Great Recession and financial crisis hit.

The financial losses caused by a weak economy and the high debt load with which Apollo saddled its new companies put their survival at risk.

At Momentive, workers paid the price for Apollo’s debt-fueled buying spree.

More than 400 Momentive workers at its Waterford plant were told in 2008 that their pay was being cut.

The pay cuts were drastic. Kat Aaron, a reporter for the Investigative Reporting Workshop reported that one veteran worker saw his pay drop from $29.11 an hour to $17 an hour.

The pay cuts also fell most heavily on workers who had worked for Momentive for a long time.

The union filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, and in 2010 won back pay of thousands of dollars for those affected by the wage cuts.

However, a new collective bargaining agreement ratified by the membership in 2010 re-instituted the pay cuts.

In 2014, still struggling under its heavy debt load, Momentive filed for bankruptcy.

The company’s weak financial situation and its bankruptcy filing made it difficult for the union to regain the workers’ lost wages.

But when Momentive emerged from bankruptcy in 2014, workers’ health care and pension benefits were still intact.

Now, two years later, Momentive wants to shift workers to a high deductible health plan and eliminate the workers’ pension plan for new hires, which puts all workers’ pensions at risk.

Two days after the strike began, Momentive made another offer in hopes of ending the strike.

Details of that offer are not available.

Union members voted on the offer on Sunday, November 6 and Monday, November 7. The offer was rejected by a vote of 476 to 190.

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