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US Union Wins Imerys Recognition Vote

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6 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 59/2000

An American union has won a hard-fought election to represent Imerys workers at the company's Sylacauga site in Alabama. Imerys is a leading materials and minerals multinational, and a global trade union campaign played an important part in the election victory.

"We won against all odds by showing our union had real power against this giant global corporation," said Charles Stevens, an Imerys worker and one of the leaders of the organising committee for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE). The union secured a 205 to 181 victory on 22 June in a secret ballot election to represent 400 workers at the Imerys plant.

Imerys withdrew recognition of the union in June, 1999, after the company acquired English China Clays (ECC) and combined a much larger non-union ECC plant with its unionised Georgia Marble facility just next to it. Imerys claimed the union no longer represented a majority of workers at the combined operation. PACE immediately formed an organising committee, made up initially of union members from Georgia Marble, after the withdrawal of recognition, and started contacting non-union ECC workers.

The victory, according to PACE Organiser Joe Wilson, who led the drive in Sylacauga, was the culmination of a year-long campaign. "Most ECC workers had little knowledge of a union, and the company used brutal scare tactics to keep the workers from talking to union supporters from Georgia Marble," said Wilson. "Eventually, we broke the spiral of fear by fighting back with a combination of hard work, proven organising methods and a sophisticated 21st century global campaign that overwhelmed the company."

Key to the organising drive was support received from unions representing Imerys employees in Britain, Belgium and Australia and in France, where the company is headquartered.

PACE produced a video and other publicity material on Imerys' "union-busting" at Sylacauga. A special PACE/ICEM website highlighted the campaign and enabled workers worldwide to communicate with their colleagues in the US.

The union also sent two delegations to meet European trade unionists. One of the delegations included Imerys worker Keith Fulbright from the ECC side of the Sylacauga facility. Fulbright's accounts of Imerys' behaviour prompted European trade union protests to the company. British workers represented by the ICEM-affiliated Transport and General Workers' Union wore
stickers at some of Imerys' largest plants stating: "Stop Imerys Union Busting in the US."

The ICEM lobbied Imerys headquarters management directly in Paris, and ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs travelled from the international's headquarters in Brussels to a union rally in Sylacauga to show international support for the workers there. Higgs also led a march on the plant.

The global campaign against Imerys peaked on 9 May at the Imerys shareholders' meeting in Paris. PACE, the ICEM and Walden Asset Management, a major social investment company, drew the shareholders' attention to Imerys' anti-union practices.

"I believe that PACE and the ICEM have made a little history with this campaign and our victory," commented PACE President Boyd Young today.

PACE anticipates the start of bargaining soon for a first contract (collective agreement) at Sylacauga. "We hope the company will finally put aside its anti-union attitude and realise that the union and company must work together to make the Sylacauga operation a success," said PACE Region 5 Vice-President Don Langham.

"This is a great victory for international solidarity," said ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs today. "Above all, it is a victory for the courage and perseverance of the Sylacauga workers and their trade union, PACE. We call upon Imerys to honour the workers' decision without delay. In Sylacauga as everywhere else, it is in the company's own best interests to work with the union and to conduct collective bargaining in good faith."