Honeywell Workers Get Rare Good News for Christmas

Mike Elk

Honeywell workers have had little to celebrate at recent Christmases. Here, families hold protest signs during the 2010-2011 lockout. (Local 7-699)

For the past sev­er­al Christ­mases, work­ers at Honeywell’s ura­ni­um plant in Metrop­o­lis, Ill., have had lit­tle to cel­e­brate. Most of the work­ers at the plant have spent the best part of four years in a series of labor strug­gles with the com­pa­ny: first a tense 13-month lock­out end­ing in 2011, then post-lock­out dis­putes in which the union alleged that the com­pa­ny failed to abide by the new con­tract, and then, in July of 2012, a year­long shut­ter­ing of the plant that led to tem­po­rary lay­offs of almost the entire union workforce.

This hol­i­day sea­son, how­ev­er, the work­ers are final­ly get­ting some­thing to cheer about — all of their jobs back, two days before Christmas. 

Ear­li­er this month, Honeywell’s new plant man­ag­er Jim Pritch­ett recalled the final 11 of the near­ly 200 laid-off union work­ers — includ­ing the union local pres­i­dent, Stephen Lech. The last of the work­ers restart­ed their jobs on Mon­day, Decem­ber 23. The union, Unit­ed Steel­work­ers (USW) Local 7 – 699, is hop­ing that the recalls may be a sign of improved rela­tions with Honeywell.

That rela­tion­ship grew even more strained this sum­mer, after Hon­ey­well reopened the ren­o­vat­ed plant in May. While the com­pa­ny began bring­ing back laid-off union work­ers in an order deter­mined by lists nego­ti­at­ed with the union, it stopped with 21 work­ers still left on the list. Local 7 – 699 alleges that this was an attempt to avoid rehir­ing Lech, who was next in line.

Out of sol­i­dar­i­ty with the laid-off work­ers, some union work­ers refused to work over­time, say­ing the plant was under­staffed and that Hon­ey­well was using over­time to avoid fill­ing the need­ed posi­tions. In turn, Pritch­ett (then the plan­t’s oper­at­ing man­ag­er), sent a memo in July can­cel­ing sum­mer vaca­tions for all work­ers because not enough over­time shifts were being filled.

On Octo­ber 25, Local 7 – 699 filed an unfair labor prac­tice charge with the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board, say­ing that Hon­ey­well had unlaw­ful­ly, dis­parate­ly, and dis­crim­i­na­to­ri­ly failed and refused to rein­state from lay­off, union pres­i­dent, Stephen Lech, because he engaged in pro­tect­ed, and con­cert­ed, and union activities.”

The NLRB was get­ting ready to hear the case when Hon­ey­well set­tled. If the board had ruled in favor of the local and found that the refusal to rein­state was in retal­i­a­tion for union action, Hon­ey­well would have been legal­ly liable for the back pay for the 21 work­ers who were not recalled dur­ing that six-month peri­od. Lech esti­mates that the pay­ment could have totaled more than a half a mil­lion dollars.

Some union activists say that the threat of legal action over the lay­offs pro­pelled Hon­ey­well to final­ly read­mit the last 21 work­ers to the plant. Hon­ey­well did not return Work­ing In These Times’ request for comment.

While Honeywell’s motives are unclear, what is clear is that this Christ­mas Eve, a lot of Hon­ey­well work­ers in Metrop­o­lis, Ill., have rea­son to smile. The news of a vic­to­ry gives union work­ers a much-need­ed morale boost as they head into what are expect­ed to be con­tentious nego­ti­a­tions over their con­tract, which is set to expire this June.

I¹m excit­ed about it,” says Lech of the rehir­ings. We’ve fought hard against Hon­ey­well for the last four years, and this is a huge vic­to­ry for us.”

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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