Striking steelworkers employed at Honeywell's uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Illinois US, are deliberately being kept "locked out." Following a break down in negotiations after workers refused to give up their retiree health care coverage and pension plans, bosses are using this costly tactic to attempt to break union organisation, says the Unite Steelworkers union (USW).
Members of the Steelworkers Local 7-699 say that Honeywell is spending more money to keep them locked out than what it would cost to settle the dispute. Honeywell is demanding cuts to workers' health care and pensions for new staff and to increase workers' health care contributions to $8,500 (£5,262) a year.
Having done its sums the USW says it would cost Honeywell $20 million (£12.4m) over a three-year deal for workers to keep their health and pension benefits at current levels. The USW says that Honeywell has already spent or lost at least almost $50m (£30.9m) to keep the workers locked out.
This figure includes the costs of hiring 300 scabs estimated to be $20m, an estimated $5m to support the scabs and provide additional security for them plus $2.5m for overtime pay for management working longer hours - but it does not include legal costs for Honeywell, which has sued the USW for its picketing activities.
The steelworkers say that the plant has lost $22m (£13.6m) in production during an 11-week shutdown - a figure confirmed by the plant manager. Steelworkers' officials say it is outrageous for Honeywell to claim it does not have $20m to maintain current health and retiree benefits over a three-year period when the company is willing to lose $22m alone through lost production.
The question is, why is Honeywell willing to spend more money to lockout its workers for six months than to just keep worker benefits?
One of the problems is that Honeywell has thousands of workers organised by a number of different unions in the US and they are hitting the Metropolis USW local hard to send a signal to its workers throughout the country.
Honeywell is one of the biggest political donors in the US and has used its new-found political muscle to get its CEO David Cote a seat on President Obama's deficit commission to stop defence cuts. The company is also benefiting from booming federal contracts leading to bumper profits.
The Metropolis plant is the only uranium conversion facility of its kind in the US. The company developed plans to take on the workforce and use scab labour - the first time in the plant's 60-year history it has done so - plans the USW says the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved.
Honeywell may be spending vast amounts to maximise profits in an effort to break the union, but USW members in Metropolis say they will stay on the picket for as long as it takes.
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