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USW Local 7-669, Honeywell Accord Takes Effect Today, Ending US Lockout

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15 August, 2011

Members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-669 in Metropolis, Illinois, ratified a three-year labour agreement with Honeywell, Inc., on 2 August, officially ending a lockout that began on 28 June 2010. The ratification vote came a full 13 days following conclusion of a negotiated settlement (see ICEM report of 22 July).

The extraordinary long time between the tentative settlement and the ratification came because Honeywell managers at the uranium converting facility neglected to give explicit job assignments to locked-out workers in a separate back-to-work agreement.

Terms of the agreement take effect today with the majority of USW members attending re-certification sessions at an area college.

The 228 steelworkers at Honeywell convert milled uranium, known as yellow-cake uranium, into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) which is used in nuclear fuel enrichment. The lock-out was marked by Honeywell’s decision to resume full production nine weeks into the company’ s work stoppage and then re-start operations with inexperienced scab replacement workers. Twice in the months that followed, the plant saw near-miss tragedies due to mishandling of dangerous chemicals.

The period between the 20 July 2011 tentative agreement and the 2 August ratification, which occurred with a 113-75 vote, was as contentious as the entire lockout was. Honeywell managers told Local 7-699 that it wanted experienced workers to return to the jobs they knew best, but then submitted a back-to-work roster which saw job postings many of the locked-out workers had never worked before.

It took Local 7-669 leaders enormous time and effort in the 13-day interval to sort out the return-to-work roster. Meanwhile, Honeywell managers publicly denounced the union for not conducting the ratification vote. “They were trying to force a vote before our people knew exactly which job they would return to,” said local union spokesman John Smith.

Local 7-669 members begin the return-to-work ritual today with training and re-certification as mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Forty workers will return two weeks later for the same, and the remainder two weeks after that. The unionised workforce will number about 220 workers when the experienced and qualified USW members are fully back to work.

The negotiated settlement preserves most of the key union-protection provisions that Honeywell was trying to strip at the start of the lockout, including seniority, job bidding, overtime, and retention of a defined benefit pension plan for existing workers, as well as retiree medical benefits that go along with that plan.

On wages, the new three-year collective agreement calls for no increase in the first year, 1% effective 15 August 2012, and 2% on 15 August 2013. Local 7-669 proposed in bargaining over a year ago a freeze on wages and continuation of all terms and conditions of a prior three-year contract. But Honeywell seemed intent on taking away pension benefits, the accompanying health care benefits, as well as union-protection provisions.

Honeywell abandoned most of those contract concessions, perhaps realising that it needed experienced steelworkers to effectively operate the plant safety and productively. Production had plummeted to a reported 35% of pre-lockout levels and Honeywell was not meeting its order demand for UF6.

USW Local 7-669 waged an extraordinary campaign in preserving most of their work standards. The workers traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, to stand with public employees protesting the gutting of their collective bargaining rights by Governor Scott Walker; they journeyed to Europe and won support from major trade union federations, as well as Honeywell’s European Works Council (see that ICEM update here); and they connected with immigrant groups in Los Angeles, California, to block Honeywell from gaining a water-services contract there.