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Vol. 75/No. 30      August 22, 2011

Illinois uranium workers:
‘We fought a good fight’
METROPOLIS, Illinois—Some 200 workers locked out by Honeywell at its uranium processing plant here will begin returning to work August 15 after voting to approve a new contract.

Honeywell locked out the 228 members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-669 in June 2010 after they voted down a union-busting contract proposal and offered to keep working under the current contract. Honeywell refused.

The company demanded elimination of seniority and retiree medical benefits, pension cuts, and a 10 percent wage decrease over three years.

About 190 local members turned out August 2 to vote on the three-year agreement. A week earlier the negotiating committee had sent a proposal back to Honeywell without a vote, following a packed union meeting where many workers objected to the company’s return-to-work plan. The contract workers approved contained some improvements on the plan, union members report.

Midway through the vote, union officials answered reporters’ questions. Asked what he himself thought about the contract, Local 7-669 president Darrell Lillie responded, “I don’t like it. We had to give concessions, and any time you have to do that, you don’t like it. But there comes a time when the membership has to decide. The members of this local have stood strong for 13 months. That’s a long time.”

During the daylong balloting, the Militant spoke to workers who said they had voted for and against the contract.

“The union has got a lot to be proud of,” said Stephen Lech. “A small union moved a big corporation. We are a better union for it. We maintained seniority and retiree health care. That’s what the fight was about. We kept overtime being paid after each 8- or 12-hour shift. These are things we preserved.”

“No union person has anything to hang their head about, because we fought a good fight,” said Marcalene Holt, a 15-year operator in the plant. “I actually think it made the union stronger. There is more solidarity and more togetherness now.”

Steve Glidden, a trustee and member of the local’s Strike and Defense Committee, said he is “a changed person” because of this 13-month-long battle. “Before I never even went to union meetings. We thought that the young members would run, but they have been the backbone of the fight.”

Steven Allen, a maintenance mechanic at the plant, said, “I hope the contract is rejected, because that would show the unity of the ranks. We all went out together, we should all go back together.”

A young worker who preferred not to give his name, said, “We gave up too much. The company eliminated entire departments and now has the right to contract out those jobs.”

“I was disappointed the contract was ratified. I especially didn’t like the reentry plan,” said Luckie Atkinson. “We were locked out as one, we should go back as one.”

Nonetheless, Atkinson said, the union fought to keep a lot of what Honeywell wanted to take away, such as medical care for retirees and protection against contracting out jobs. “And at least the new hires will have some kind of a pension,” he said. “I don’t like what happened to our seniority. I’ll go back with a $1.50 wage cut because they eliminated the job I used to do.

“But I’m proud of my union,” Atkinson said. “We put up a good fight. I’ll go back to work and do a good job, and I’ll continue to be involved in other people’s struggles, from Keokuk, Iowa, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Armstrong Industries has locked out members of USW Local 285.”

Several months into the lockout, Honeywell began hiring “replacement workers.” Some were promised permanent jobs, unionists say. Prior to the lockout, Honeywell had 188 scabs in the plant for 30 days shadowing workers trying to learn their jobs. In September, one day after the scabs started up core production, a hydrogen blast rocked the plant. While Honeywell denied it, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later confirmed the explosion.

The local organized solidarity rallies in August and October 2010 and a one-year anniversary rally in June 2011. They organized a town hall meeting open to any resident of the Metropolis area, where unionists explained the stakes in their fight, especially safety.

USW 7-669 members kept up a picket line for months, which not one member crossed. Members of the USW, United Mine Workers, and others made donations and joined picket lines. Local 7-669 members spoke at union meetings and labor events in Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California, as well as in Germany and Belgium. They joined rallies of public workers resisting government antilabor assaults in Madison, Wisconsin, and Indianapolis. They went to Keokuk to back members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 48G locked out by Roquette America.

“We fought one day longer on all the core issues and won them to our satisfaction,” said Local 7-669 president Lillie in a statement issued the day after the vote. “All of us who were locked out by Honeywell in June of last year who want to go back to work are doing so with union pride, a union contract, and union solidarity.”
Related articles:
45,000 strike against Verizon’s takebacks
‘They’re coming after all us workers’
Workers fight lockout by American Crystal Sugar
Leader of Roquette struggle backs sugar workers
Corn-processing workers in Iowa discuss lessons of recent lockout fight
On the Picket Line  
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