UAW Region 9A Director Julie Kushner stands with Local 1508 members at Honeywell in Green Island, New York.
The Honeywell plants in South Bend, Indiana, and Green Island, New York, make brakes and wheels for commercial and military airplanes. They also make bad decisions regarding their employees.
At this moment, 317 UAW members are locked out of the Indiana plant — unable to enter or collect a paycheck. Another 42 members from Local 1508 are locked out at their Honeywell plant in New York. These men and women want to work, but Honeywell has decided that they must remain outside the plant, because they rejected a contract that called for steep concessions.
The lockout began at 6 a.m. on May 9. Ivan Donaldson was working the line that morning and was supposed to work for another hour when he was asked to leave the plant.
“My supervisor walked up to me at 6 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘Get your stuff. You guys are locked out,’” said Donaldson.
“It’s my belief that the company does not want the union present in these plants anymore, so they put a contract on the table that was unbearable for us to accept,” he added. “It’s either we go back in time 50 or 60 years or we turn down the contract and get locked out.”
Prior to the lockout, the UAW and Honeywell sat down to bargain a new agreement, but the company demanded too many concessions. The company’s latest offer was delivered to both locals’ membership and was voted down overwhelmingly on May 3, the day their five-year contract with Honeywell expired.
Honeywell blames the lockout on UAW members voting down the contract. But the company began preparing for a lockout two months earlier by bringing in a temporary workforce to shadow UAW-represented employees.
“There was a lot of preparation by management putting locks on the doors, security cameras, and they were constantly in meetings. We knew it was coming,” said Susan Brennan, of Local 1508, who has worked with the company for 28 years. “I noticed a couple of the bosses there early in the morning and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, why are these guys here?’ Shortly after that somebody came over and said all the bosses, all of them, are here,” Brennan said.
“They were leaning over our shoulders a few steps back from you, but the people knew what they were there for,” said Adam Stevenson, president of Local 9. “They knew somebody was there to possibly take their jobs, and [the replacement workers] were laughing at us the whole time. We just held our composure and kept moving forward.”
The replacement workers were brought in by Strom Engineering, a Minnesota-based company that supplies staffing during strikes. Honeywell also is using salaried staff, engineers, supervisors, engineering students and anyone else the company can get to replace the trained and experienced UAW workforce they locked out.
Members of Locals 9 and 1508 tried to prepare as best as they could.
“We tried to educate everybody as to what to expect, but when the scabs showed up, that was a big eye-opener for everybody,” said machinist and Local 9 CAP representative Bryan Rodgers. “The folks that were somewhat sympathetic with the company didn’t think they would ever do something like this, but when the buses with a 150-plus people showed up, they realized the company meant business and they could have been out of a job really soon,” said Rodgers.
The plant has strong labor and UAW history. Its significance in the labor movement started in 1936, when workers there started the first sitdown strike when the plant was owned by Bendix Corp.
A strike, like the one in 1936, is when workers choose to stop working and withhold their labor to exercise their collective voice. In a lockout, the company stops paying unionized workers and prevents them from performing their jobs until they reach an agreement with the company. Typically, union members may choose to continue working under the existing contract while a new agreement is negotiated.
For journeyman electrician Adam Clevenger, the negotiations are a time for the company to do better, especially considering the plant’s success.
“We’ve been turning some record numbers here at Honeywell over the last few years. Our orders and productivity were at an all-time high,” Clevenger said.
The frustration between the UAW members and the company is based on wages that have barely kept up with inflation and the insurance plan cost structure which brought uncertainty and added costs.
“We came to the table at the time of our contract renewal and Honeywell decided to show us how they really feel about us. They wanted to raise our insurance premium 200 percent, raise our deductible 400 percent, and cut our pension off and freeze that,” said Clevenger.
The lockout is indefinite, but negotiations resumed but have failed to make any progress.
In the meantime, members continue to picket in shifts outside the plants. They’re also getting help from their locals by signing up for strike benefits which help ensure the members are covered by UAW health insurance until they are allowed back to their jobs. In addition, UAW Local 1508 President Timothy Vogt said, “This lockout has brought financial hardship on our families and added an overwhelming amount of stress, but we are undeterred by the company’s decision to emasculate the contract, taking away COLA benefits, SUB benefits, pension freezing and forcing a high deductible plan to our members.”
He added, “The community support we’ve received is like nothing I could ever have imagined. We’ve had overwhelming support from area labor councils, families of members, and the community.”
For now, the picket signs lean on the shoulders of members as uncertainty looms, but faith in building a better future through a good, union contract helps bolster the hope that this lockout may soon end with our members back to work, able to provide for their families once again.
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