Noted labor historian Joe Burns has called the lockout of 230 workers at the Honeywell uranium processing facility in Metropolis, Ill., the highest profile ongoing labor dispute in the country right now. Despite this, beyond one New York Times story published in August, no major news outlets have covered the story (see correction below).
Indeed, trusted journalists like ABC’s Christine Amanpour refuse to ask Honeywell CEO David Cote questions about his role in the lockout when interviewing him. By letting Honeywell go unchallanged, the White House has been able to reward Honeywell CEO David Cote with a front seat in the Obama White House.
Just last week, President Obama chose to have Honeywell CEO David Cote accompany him on a tour of India designed primarily to ease barriers to outsourcing in India. Obama invited Cote to accompany him touring India despite Cote’s status as one of the country’s most infamous union busters.
Determined to break unions throughout Honeywell, Cote locked-out union workers at Honeywell’s uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Ill. Honeywell has since hired poorly trained scabs to operate the facility, which has already resulted in an explosion at the plant.
While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) initially prevented the plant from using the scabs, it has now — under political pressure — taken the unprecedented step of waving its 60 year precedent of not allowing scabs to work in this extremely dangerous uranium facility.
With the lockout in its fifth month, Honeywell has spent more money keeping workers locked out at the Metropolis facility than it would be spending if it were providing the workers what they want. According to union officials, Honeywell has already spent or lost at least $48.8 million to keep the workers locked out over a four month period.
By contrast, agreeing to workers’ demands that Honeywell maintain their current health and retirement benefits would cost the company only $20 million over the life of a three-year contract. Honeywell is spending more than twice the amount it would take to maintain current workers’ benefits, because it has its eye on a much larger goal: busting the thousands of unionized workers in Honeywell plants throughout the country.
President Obama’s decision to help Cote further his business ties in India was greeted with outrage by local union officials. USW Local 7-669 President Darrell Lillie, who represents the 230 locked out workers at Honeywell Corp.’s uranium processing facility in Metropolis, IL, said:
We’ve been forced out of our jobs for the past 20 weeks and watched unskilled scabs brought in by this company steal our jobs, cheating our families out of income that puts food on the dinner table and pays the mortgage. It strikes me as a poor choice for Honeywell’s CEO David Cote to be accompanying President Obama on a mission to India for promoting American jobs and exports.
The White House refused to issue a statement on the Metropolis Honeywell lockout despite being asked about the matter several times over the last two months by myself and others. This, despite the fact that Obama has spoken in support of mistreated workers on several other occasions as President.
It should come as no surprise to political observers that President Obama is taking Honeywell’s side in the dispute. Honeywell is the number one political contributor in the United States. It has increased its political contributions by 400% since Obama took office in 2008. President Obama has routinely described Honeywell CEO David Cote as one of his closest advisers in the business community. Cote ensured an early political victory for the President when he persuaded the US Chamber of Commerce to stay on the sidelines during the stimulus fight.
In return for their political contributions, Honeywell has received $13 billion dollars’ worth of federal contracts, mainly defense contracts, over the last ten years. Honeywell is also accused of using its political clout to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve allowing undertrained scabs to work with enriched uranium at the Metropolis facility. In the 60-plus years that the United Steelworkers union has represented the Metropolis uranium facility, the NRC has never allowed scabs to be hired during a lockout due to the safety issues related to enriching uranium.
Obama’s decision to help Honeywell increase their profits in India by having Cote accompany the President on his India trip symbolizes the extent to which the White House has left workers out in the cold. What is more surprising is how we in the media have left these workers out in the cold by giving their story scant coverage – if any at all.
Worse still, the lack of coverage of the Metropolis plant lockout is not for lack of access to Cote. Cote appeared on ABC’s This Week with Christiana Amanpour to talk about the economy, this past Sunday. Honeywell workers contacted the producers of This Week and asked them to raise questions about what many in the labor movement consider to be its highest profile ongoing labor dispute.
However, Amanpour ignored these requests and refused to ask Cote about what is taking place in the high-profile lock out at Honeywell in Metropolis, Illinois. In fact, Tim Fernholz of The American Prospect lamented that the mainstream media did not so much as bat an eye at an explosion at the uranium enrichment facility caused by poorly trained workers.
There was a time in America when journalists regularly covered symbolic labor struggles like the one at Honeywell that were going on beneath the public’s radar, and in turn, generated pressure on our elected officials to improve the conditions of workers. But these days, the media is more eager to please the corporate elite of this country than report on the struggles of regular Americans.
The case of the Metropolis plant lockout confirms what many of us already know: when journalists stop caring about worker’s struggles, the natural result is that politicians like President Obama don’t need to care either. Thus President Obama can travel Asia with Honeywell CEO’s at his side, helping Honeywell send American jobs overseas while he busts unions at home and go absolutely unchallenged by journalists like Christiane Amanpour.
CORRECTION: This article, which first appeared at The Huffington Post, has been corrected to note the New York Times’ August story on the lockout. It originally stated that no major news outlet had covered the lockout since it began in late June. We regret the error.