Momentive workers gain momentum in their fight for a fair contract

Striking workers on January 13 picketed the Manhattan offices of Apollo Global Management, a private equity fund that manages $188 billion worth of investments.

The workers are on strike at Momentive Performance Materials in Waterford, New York. Momentive is a chemical company that manufactures silicone products at its Waterford plant.

Apollo Global Management is the principle owner of Momentive. Another billion dollar private equity company–The Blackstone Group–also owns a share of Momentive.

Since the private equity companies took control of Momentive in 2006, workers have endured a series of wage and benefit reductions that began in 2008.

When contract negotiations began in 2016, Apollo demanded more benefit cuts and other concessions, but the 700 members of IUE-CWA Local 81359/81380 said enough is enough and voted to strike if Apollo insisted on more cuts.

One of the striking workers picketing Apollo on Friday was Conrad Lape, who has worked at the Momentive Waterford plant for 14 years.

“When these private equity billionaires came in, Momentive starting cutting wages and benefits,” said Lape, to the Albany Times Union. “While I and my fellow workers are just trying to make sure we have health coverage and the ability to feed our families, these hedge funds are getting even richer off of my family’s financial insecurity. Waterford is a small town, and the entire community is disgusted.”

The strikers have endured a brutal winter on strike to stop Apollo’s wage and benefits race to the bottom.

Until 2006, the Waterford plant was owned by General Electric. GE sold the plant to Apollo and other investors for $3.8 billion, most of which was financed by a bond sale.

While Apollo borrowed the money to finance the buyout, the new company and its workers were the ones responsible for paying the nearly $4 billion debt resulting from the leveraged buyout.

As a result of its heavy debt load, Momentive began cutting expenses. In 2008, it announced that it was reclassifying some jobs, reducing the pay of workers who held those jobs by between 25 percent and 50 percent.

The union fought the pay reduction and won a temporary reprieve in the form of back pay for the workers who lost wages, but the company was eventually able to make the wage reductions permanent.

The company again took aim on its workers in 2013 when it froze their pension benefits.

In 2014, Momentive declared bankruptcy. It emerged from bankruptcy in the same year. The bankruptcy allowed it to shed $3 billion of the company’s debt.

But the company continued to look for ways to cut costs, and when the union began bargaining for a new collective bargaining agreement, the company demanded that the workers pay more for their health insurance and accept less coverage. The company also proposed eliminating health care insurance for retirees.

Those and other concessions that the company demanded gave workers little choice but to strike.

The company has tried to keep production going by hiring replacement workers.

The replacement workers, however, are unfamiliar with the chemical processes that take place at the Waterford plant, which has created safety problems.

The union reports that “since the strike began, there have been 30 chemical spills at the plant, over seven times the rate of spills when the trained workers are on the job.”

The spilled chemicals are toxic, which creates a threat to the safety of the community beyond the plant.

The Times Union reports that because of the threat to the community posed by the spills, New York’s Environmental Conservation Commission plans to take enforcement action against Momentive.

Earlier in the month another state agency, the state comptroller, urged Momentive to settle the strike. The comptroller oversees New York state pension funds that hold investments in Momentive.

On January 9, Momentive and the workers’ unions returned to the bargaining table.

On January 13, the same day that union workers were picketing Apollo, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department announced that it would withdraw its security detail from Momentive, a sign that the local community is growing tired of Momentive’s efforts to wear down its workers.

The union is urging people who want to support the Momentive workers to make a donation to the workers’ solidarity fund and to sign a petition urging Apollo to settle the strike.

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