By Frank Hammer.
“You brought a breath of fresh air!” That’s how two UAW Local 9 officers summed up the impact of solidarity activists who converged on South Bend, IN on January 5, 2017 to show support for Honeywell workers locked out of their jobs for over 8 months. More than a dozen UAW autoworkers, retirees and allies drove from Chicago and Detroit despite snow gusts and sub-freezing temperatures to bring encouragement and donations to the 320-member local.
The Local 9 members at a Honeywell Aerospace factory in South Bend, Indiana and the 42 workers at their sister plant in Green Island, NY (members of UAW Local 1508) have been locked out since May 9, 2016 over a contract dispute. They make braking systems and wheels for commercial and military aircraft, including the Boeing 737, the Boeing B-52, and Lockheed Martin F-35. The average wage was $21.83 per hour.
The dispute is not over their wages. It’s Honeywell that’s demanding deep concessions in their new 5-year contract, including the elimination of cost-of-living increases and pensions for new workers, cuts in overtime pay, subcontracting out work, restricting representation rights, and more.
Workers rejected Honeywell’s demands by a 90% margin two days before the lockout, and again by 70% on November 23, 2016, even though unemployment benefits were running out. The locked out workers draw $200/week payments from the Union’s strike fund (and health insurance), plus donations flowing in from a variety of sources including community groups and other union locals which is keeping their food pantry stocked. Some have found other employment; many have seen their savings depleted. Six days before the December holidays Honeywell demanded another vote on the identical (modified) proposal presented in November, but local leaders Todd Treder and Bryan Rodgers told Honeywell via a UAW representative, “no dice.”
“They want to bust our union”
In an interview with Treder and Rodgers on the day of the solidarity action, the local reps said the number one objection by the membership was not monetary, but instead about union seniority and other quality of work life rights won over decades of negotiations. They were even willing to make some concessions on increased co-pays and deductibles in their health care, but the company insists on the right to unilaterally change health coverage, premiums and deductibles.
According to Treder, Vice President and spokesperson for the Local, “3 weeks before the previous contract was set to expire, the company made their proposal by presenting our 2011 contract, with lots of red lines across all the contract language they wanted taken out. It’s clear to our membership; they want to bust our union. The company knew full well what it was doing.” The November vote occurred on nearly the same day that, 80 years ago, workers staged a successful 8-day sit-down strike that forced the then-Bendix Corporation to recognize their UAW local. , The South Bend plant occupation was a precursor to the 44-day sit-down strike initiated on December 30, 1936 at GM factories in Flint, Michigan.
Honeywell ‘s history with lockouts
Honeywell was prepared to play hardball. Long before the contract vote, they began outsourcing work and shuttling in replacement workers hired by Strom Engineering who followed UAW members around, attempting to learn their jobs. Strom Engineering markets itself as providing temporary workers – otherwise known as scabs – “to ensure consistent production in the event of a labor disruption.”
“The steps followed by Honeywell,” Rodgers said, “follow a very definite script of not one but two other lockouts waged in 2011 and 2015 against United Steelworkers Local 7-669 at a Honeywell uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill.” Treder added, “The lockouts there lasted 8 and 13 months. When Metropolis plant manager Dean Palmer was reassigned to South Bend months before our contract was set to expire, we knew something was up.” Rodgers said, “The tactic backfired, and unified the local.”
Honeywell says it needs to rein in costs because the aviation industry has hit some “turbulence.” Yet industry sources report new multi-billion dollar contracts for hundreds of new aircraft, including India’s Spice Jet airlines. Honeywell International is highly profitable; its stock price quadrupled over the past ten years to $115 per share. CEO David Cote was paid $34.5 million in 2015 and cashed in another $36 million in stock options. He is in line for a $168 million pension when he retires in March. The company had record profits of $4.77 billion in 2015.
In a “dear colleague” letter to the locked out workers after the second contract rejection, Honeywell executives expressed “extreme disappointment” with the South Bend Local. “Our offer is fair, reasonable and consistent with what other U.S. unions within Honeywell have already approved, including another UAW local in Michigan and your colleagues in Green Island (UAW Local 1508, which voted to ratify the company’s offer, but failed to offset the large no vote in South Bend). We worked hard to provide the union with our best offer and it will not get richer.”
Then-Indiana Governor Pence undermines locked out workers
According to labor journalist Mike Elk, “While President-Elect Donald Trump has tweeted out denunciations of defense contractors for cost overruns associated with producing F-35s, he has yet to call out Honeywell for asking the Department of Defense for reimbursements from the cost overruns of the cost of hiring and training scab replacement workers, who make brakes for the F-35 and F-18.
“In fact, his Vice President-elect Mike Pence, as the Governor of Indiana, attempted to block the workers from receiving unemployment benefits. Although workers locked out from their jobs in union disputes, are entitled to unemployment benefits, Pence personally intervened to slow down the process of Indiana resident receiving the benefits; thus delaying the workers from receiving benefits for nearly two months.”
“Return to Our Roots”
UAW officials have lent support to the locked-out workers, facilitating donations received by the local, and filing unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB (which is dragging its feet). Last year they helped with rallies in South Bend and in Albany, NY – where they protested a government decision to award Honeywell an $18.3 million contract for brakes for the Navy’s F/A-18 plane. However, when the local leaders arranged the second ratification vote in November (with no recommendation), UAW officials advocated a “yes” vote. The UAW website has been mum on the lockout since.
The Autoworker Caravan, in conjunction with UAW Local 9 and St. Joseph Valley Project/Jobs with Justice (Indiana), will hold a “Return to Our Roots” solidarity rally in South Bend on Saturday, February 11, 2017 to mark the 80th Anniversary of the UAW Flint Sit-down strike. Unionists and allies are urged to support the courageous Honeywell workers, and to join in!