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Scabs cause suspected chemical leak while skilled steelworkers still locked out

  • Honeywell Metropolis suspected UF6 (Uranium Hexafluoride) Release 10/26/2014
  • Honeywell Metropolis UF6 release. 10/26/2014

4 November, 2014The Honeywell management in Metropolis, Illinois is risking the safety of the local community to attack its employees’ union rights. Rejecting good faith bargaining with USW Local 7-669, management instead has locked out 150 USW members for the last three months.

Photos and video footage of the facility in the evening of 26 October show a vapour cloud coming from the factory. The strong suspicion is that this was a dangerous leak of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas. UF6 is a highly corrosive and reactive substance used in the uranium enrichment process. When it comes into contact with skin it can cause sever burns and serious radiation.

Locking out the 150 skilled workers from the uranium conversion plant has meant that temporary labourers are running the operations without sufficient experience dealing with dangerous chemicals.

IndustriALL Global Union fully supports the USW in calling for an investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC).

“It is time for Honeywell to end this senseless lockout, return these 150 experienced workers to their jobs, and come to terms on a new, fair contract agreement,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.

Although Honeywell is vehemently denying the leak, an NRC representative blamed the leak on a failure of equipment that was installed by outside contractors, work that was previously done in-house by USW members.

“There was a systematic breakdown in the response to the emergency. It wasn’t just our people; local citizens called 911 and were told that the company has reported the situation to be under control, all while they watched the gaseous vapor leave the building and the site,” said USW Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech, who was on the scene during the incident. “A company spokesman in New Jersey and an NRC office in Georgia were reporting on events in Metropolis while we watched the reality of the situation unfold.”

“By continuing this foolish lockout, Honeywell is putting not just employees but an entire community at risk of disaster,” said USW Health, Safety and Environment Director Mike Wright. “This situation has to end.”

IndustriALL Assistant General Secretary Kemal Özkan stated:

“We stand firmly alongside our brothers and sisters of USW Local 7-669 in their fight for a fair contract at Honeywell. The vindictive lockout sends a terrible message to the local community in Metropolis, Illinois, that this company is prepared to risk releasing skin-burning chemicals into the atmosphere before talking to the union.”

The Steelworker campaign organized a large manifestation on the streets of Metropolis on 11 October, and a day of organized mass telephone calls into the company’s New Jersey headquarters which blocked their lines.