Microphone Grabbed Out of Hands of Reporter Questioning Honeywell CEO

Mike Elk June 1, 2012

Honeywell International Inc. Chairman and CEO David M. Cote, center, in 2005. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

For the last two years, I have cov­ered union bust­ing efforts by Hon­ey­well, their close con­nec­tions to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma and how fed­er­al agen­cies have assist­ed Hon­ey­well in three dif­fer­ent labor strug­gles since Oba­ma came to pow­er. In par­tic­u­lar, I cov­ered a 14-month lock­out at Hon­ey­well ura­ni­um plant in Metrop­o­lis, Illi­nois, where Hon­ey­well cheat­ed on tests for replace­ment work­ers, who lat­er caused sev­er­al releas­es of radioac­tive gas into the atmos­phere. Instead of their pick­et line with the strik­ing work­ers as he promised to do dur­ing his cam­paign, Oba­ma decid­ed to fly with top Demo­c­ra­t­ic donor and Hon­ey­well CEO David Cote to India while the lock­out was still going on. (Today, Oba­ma and Cote will appear at Honeywell’s Min­neapo­lis facil­i­ty for an event on the economy).

Recent­ly, on May 10, at around 2 p.m., man­agers walked into Hon­ey­well’s ura­ni­um con­ver­sion plant in Metrop­o­lis, Ill., and told work­ers — both union and nonunion—they had to leave the plant imme­di­ate­ly. Mul­ti­ple work­ers present say a man­ag­er told them the sud­den dis­missal was because the com­pa­ny had to inves­ti­gate sab­o­tage” of plant equip­ment. Hon­ey­well has since allowed non-union con­trac­tors and salaried employ­ees and man­agers back into the plant to oper­ate it as the com­pa­ny’s inves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues, but still has­n’t allowed the full union­ized work­force to return. 

Then on May 14, accord­ing to Unit­ed Steel­work­ers Local 7 – 669 Pres­i­dent Stephen Lech, an engi­neer — man­ning a post typ­i­cal­ly manned by a union employ­ee — caused a release of high­ly tox­ic radioac­tive UF6 gas for over sev­en min­utes. Con­trary to com­pa­ny pol­i­cy, no alarms were sound­ed inform­ing the com­mu­ni­ty of the release of this dead­ly gas. For­tu­nate­ly, no one was hurt by the acci­den­tal release of UF6 gas. Yet anoth­er leak of the same gas occurred at the Metrop­o­lis plant yes­ter­day, although again it appears that work­ers for­tu­nate­ly escaped seri­ous injury.

I had attempt­ed to get Hon­ey­well to com­ment on the mat­ter, but as the com­pa­ny has done through­out the two years I have cov­ered their union-bust­ing, they refused to answer the ques­tion. Ear­li­er in May, Plant Man­ag­er Lar­ry Smith hung up the phone on me when I con­tact­ed him. So when I heard Hon­ey­well CEO Dave Cote would be talk­ing at a forum on Revi­tal­iz­ing Amer­i­ca: Encour­ag­ing Entre­pre­neur­ship,” host­ed by Rep. Tim Scott (R‑S.C.), I decid­ed to go ask him a few ques­tions about Honeywell’s var­i­ous labor disputes.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, I showed up at the event in the base­ment of the U.S. Capi­tol Building’s Vis­i­tor Cen­ter where Cote was speak­ing. I iden­ti­fied myself as a reporter for In These Times and gave my card to a Repub­li­can House staffer, who then hand­ed me a media badge for the event. It was one of the most bizarre events I have ever cov­ered, as if those secret meet­ings between con­gress­man and CEOs that union guys always talk about actu­al­ly existed. 

The assem­bly includ­ed lob­by­ists, cor­po­rate exe­cutes and GOP con­gress­men, talk­ing about how they were going to push for dereg­u­la­tion and low­er tax­es. Even Rep. Hansen Clarke (D‑Mich.) showed up to brag about how he was work­ing with the Her­itage Foun­da­tion to find ways to low­er cor­po­rate tax­es. Clarke was met with wild applause from the suit-clad room. 

Cote spoke for about 15 min­utes on how he was able to make Hon­ey­well a suc­cess­ful com­pa­ny through inno­va­tion,” and said he could make it more suc­cess­ful if cor­po­rate tax­es were low­ered even fur­ther. When it was time for ques­tions for the pan­elists, I stood up and was called upon. I began to ask Cote about the ura­ni­um release caused by a non-union engi­neer work­ing a job per­formed by a union work­er. Cote began to frown and looked annoyed with my ques­tion. Imme­di­ate­ly, I start­ed get­ting dirty stares and smirks from the room of assem­bled cor­po­rate lob­by­ists and allies. The mod­er­a­tor of the pan­el inter­rupt­ed me to say Sir if I can inter­rupt. This is to hear from entrepreneurs”.

With­in a few sec­onds, Nico­las D. Muzin, a senior advis­er for Rep. Scott, grabbed me and attempt­ed to phys­i­cal­ly remove me from the room. I informed Muzin that I had nev­er been treat­ed like this as a reporter.

Lat­er, Rep. Scott, who is the spon­sor of a bill to deny food stamps to the fam­i­lies of work­ers on strike, very polite­ly took me aside in the hall­way. Rep. Scott explained that after the pan­el there would be some time where I could ask the pan­elists some ques­tions. After the pan­el end­ed, I went up to Cote and told him I want to talk you about Metrop­o­lis, Illi­nois.” Cote imme­di­ate­ly ran out a fire exit with an entourage of peo­ple fol­low­ing him. An uniden­ti­fied man who was with Cote blocked the fire exit and shoved me as I attempt­ed to walk through it. I informed him that this was an ille­gal to block a fire exit like this.

I saw anoth­er fire exit that was near­by and ran through it to find Hon­ey­well CEO David Cote in a room behind the set of doors. Upon see­ing me, Cote and his entourage imme­di­ate­ly began to run away and quick­ly exit­ed through anoth­er set of doors. I attempt­ed to fol­low Cote through that set of doors, but was blocked by the same uniden­ti­fied man and anoth­er man, whose nametag iden­ti­fied him as Hon­ey­well Exter­nal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor Rob Ferris.

Fer­ris bar­ri­cad­ed me in the room for sev­er­al min­utes and atfer­wards had the Capi­tol Police detain me. They released me after 10 min­utes when they real­ized I had done noth­ing more than try to fol­low a CEO down a hall­way. Indeed, Capi­tol Police asked me if I want­ed to press charges against Fer­ris for false impris­on­ment for bar­ri­cad­ing me into the room, but I declined.

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is doing an event with Hon­ey­well CEO Dave Cote today in Min­neapo­lis if any reporters want to ask about this inci­dent. A bet­ter ques­tion might be why has Hon­ey­well been able to use the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to attempt to bust unions in three dif­fer­ent major labor dis­putes. Either way, try to make sure you’re in a room with mul­ti­ple exits. 

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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