BY JOHN HAWKINS
CHICAGO — Members of United Steelworkers Local 7-669 — locked-out at Honeywell’s uranium conversion facility in Metropolis, Illinois, since Aug. 1 — are reaching out for solidarity.
The company locked out about 150 workers on the day of their contract expiration, 11 days into talks. Negotiations resumed Oct. 2-3 without reaching an agreement.
The recently expired contract was ratified in August 2011, after a hard-fought union struggle against a company lockout that lasted 14 months. Honeywell prepared for the lockout, lining up an army of scabs well ahead of time. But not one member of Local 7-669 crossed the picket line. Unionists stayed strong, won international solidarity and in the end beat back most of the bosses’ concession demands.
On Sept. 25, eight weeks into the current lockout, nine members of USW Local 7-669 traveled to the company’s corporate office in Washington, D.C., to deliver 3,200 signatures on petitions demanding Honeywell end the lockout and bring union members back to work. Standing with Local 7-669 in solidarity were about a dozen unionists from other Steelworkers locals, as well as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and the Washington, D.C., Central Labor Council.
“Nobody from the company came down to accept the petitions, so we left them with the security guards,” Stephen Lech, president of Local 7-669, said in a phone interview. “At the United Steelworkers Convention in August, we also got out the word to about 3,000 other union members.”
Letters of solidarity with the locked-out workers have begun to come in from around the world. “A lot of the groundwork for this was laid during the last lockout,” said Lech. “Right off the bat we knew who our allies were and who to turn to. First of all, we let French nuclear workers know that material they’d be receiving from Honeywell would be struck work. We got in contact with IndustrtiALL and the international council of Honeywell workers. A lot of the messages came from those initial contacts.
“The company is still adopting an arrogant stance,” said Lech. “They’re going after basic rights like leafleting at the plant gate. We’re not interested in giving up such rights.
“The two main issues remain health care and subcontracting,” Lech continued. “They want union members to pay $8,000 more than we currently pay in out-of-pocket medical expenses. And they want to be able to contract out another 100 jobs, which would leave only 44 workers organized by the United Steelworkers.
“We’re demanding that they staff permanent jobs with permanent workers. What they’ve been doing since the end of the previous lockout is unilaterally replacing union members who retire or quit with contractors. They claim that they have the right to do that because nobody was laid off, but that is not what we agreed to in the last contract.”
Union members are preparing for the possibility of another long fight. Local 7-669 has established a food bank and is issuing cards to local members good at local stores for purchase of groceries. The local is covering the cost of health insurance for 104 people.
“Anyone who wants to support us can visit the union’s website — usw7-669.com,” Lech said. “There they can sign the petition and make a donation either by check or via PayPal. We also invite all who support us to come to Metropolis for a march and rally at noon, Saturday, Oct. 11.”
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