The global chemical industry has faced a number of large mergers and acquisitions in the last couple of years. This is the result of a big restructuring in the sector as part of multinational companies’ strategies to consolidate through mergers and acquisitions, and develop strategic partnerships.
The largest merger in the chemical industry was realized by two American chemical giants, Dow Chemical Co and DuPont, with the creation of DowDuPont. Both companies announced the US$130 billion merger in December 2015 and finalized at the end of August this year following the approval procedures in various countries. The newly formed chemical giant plans to break up into three independent divisions within the next 17 months, focusing on agriculture, specialty products and materials. Unionists are concerned about the potential effect of the split on employees, their families and communities.
This merger also triggered other large deals in the chemical industry, including those of ChemChina (China) and Syngenta (Switzerland), and Bayer (Germany) and Monstanto (USA). With the mergers of Bayer/Monsanto, Dow Chemical/DuPont and ChemChina/Syngenta, these new three companies control 70 percent of the global pesticide market and 80 percent of the U.S. corn-seed market.
Earlier this year, two industrial gases companies Linde (Germany) and Praxair (USA) announced a US$43 billion merger while US-based Huntstman and Swiss-based Clariant made a deal US$20 billion deal.
Under these circumstances, union leaders representing thousands of workers at DowDuPont operations in North America and around the world met in Kentucky, USA, on 25-28 September 2017.
Participants at the DowDuPont North American Labor Council meeting discussed key issues concerning the recent merger.
“The workers of DowDuPont are facing many changes and challenges in the coming months, and the unionized sites of DowDuPont around the globe will be working together to ensure the members’ best interests are represented,” said Kent Holsing, chairperson of the DowDuPont North American Labor Council and president of USW Local 12075 in Midland, Michigan.
“We are speaking not only for the unionized employees of DowDuPont but also for the non-union employees who don’t have that voice. We are preparing action items to address these concerns,” added Holsing.
Other topics included workplace safety, organizing, and the need for proactive communications between the corporations and the respective unions. The meeting also served to strengthen international connections and increase mutual respect and understanding across DowDuPont’s unionized worksites.
IndustriALL Global Union’s Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan, who joined the meeting by video-conference, shared developments in the operations of the company throughout the world. Özkan reported feedback from the unions over lack of information and social dialogue, fear about future of plants and gained rights, particularly succession of collective bargaining agreements. The unions also raised their demands for continuous exchange of information and experience and regular communication and joint action if needed.
The meeting also reported the conclusions of the ILO’s Tripartite Meeting on Promoting Social Dialogue on Restructuring and its Effects on Employment in the Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries in 2011.
The ILO meeting agreed that “Social dialogue plays an essential role in making restructuring processes successful in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. To be effective in this respect, such dialogue should:
- be timely, meaning at the earliest possible stage;
- be based on a relationship of mutual respect in the context of good industrial relations between employers and workers as well as their respective organizations and be carried out in a spirit of cooperation and good faith;
- consider and address the possible restructuring scenarios and their respective implications for management and the workforce;
- be based on a full and meaningful exchange of views;
- be based on all relevant information shared at the earliest possible stage by management with workers and their representatives; and
- involve employers’ and workers’ representatives and, where appropriate, the relevant government entities.
Kemal Özkan said: “As the unions representing DowDupont employees worldwide raise their concerns about the merger, the company management must listen and sit down to discuss the consequences for employees. This is one of our main demands.
“Our union networking among the unions at DowDupont operations throughout the world will continue. We are ready to act together,”added Özkan.
The global chemical industry is one of the largest sectors within the manufacturing ecosystem generating US$3.9trillion in sales with a growth industry with a global rate of 3.6 per cent. The industry directly employs around 20 million globally.
The Kentucky meeting included representatives from the United Steelworkers (USA and Canada); the International Union of Operating Engineers; Texas City Metal Trades; the International Chemical Workers Union Council/UFCW; National Conference of Firemen and Oilers; the Ampthill Rayon Workers Incorporated (ARWI); the Dow Chemical-Stade Works Council (Germany); UNITE the Union (United Kingdom, Ireland); the Union of Workers and Employees Petrochemicals States-SOEPU (Argentina), the CUT and Forca Sindical (Brazil); and IndustriALL Global Union (Geneva, Switzerland).