Microphone Grabbed Out of Hands of Reporter Questioning Honeywell CEO

Mike Elk

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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