For over six months, members of two United Auto Workers locals have been locked out by Honeywell. The lockout began May 9 when Local 9 in South Bend, Ind., and Local 1508 in Green Island, N.Y., rejected a concessionary contract proposal. Now, six months later, and with state unemployment benefits about to run out, Honeywell workers nevertheless turned down a modified version of the deal they rejected in May.
The main issues of contention include health benefits and pensions. When the workers voted down the company’s proposal in May, Honeywell was demanding the right to make unilateral changes in health care coverage. The increase in the workers’ share of insurance premium costs would have, in effect, brought their pay down from $22 an hour to less than $15 an hour. The offer just rejected would still have imposed enormous increases in health care costs for Honeywell workers and their families.
“We’ve been out here for too long to cave for something like this,” said worker Tom Simpson. The Nov. 11 vote was 192-110 against the offer. (South Bend Tribune, Nov. 13)
Locked-out workers are aware that Honeywell, 75th in Fortune magazine’s 500 biggest world companies, made almost $5 billion in profits last year. In the past five years profits have risen 150 percent, and the Indiana plant, which makes aerospace components, is one of Honeywell’s most profitable. In the same period, Honeywell locked workers out four times prior to this, but workers’ determination defeated company efforts to starve them into submission. Last year Steelworkers Local 7-669 survived a 13-month lockout by Honeywell, pushing back concessions and winning a decent contract at an Illinois uranium plant.
The Indiana plant was the site of the first UAW sit-down strike in 1936. The owner, then Bendix, was forced to recognize the union. That and subsequent victories at auto parts suppliers in Detroit gave the UAW the confidence to take on the giant — General Motors — and finally win recognition after a 44-day sit-down occupation of key plants.
Now the grandchildren of Local 9’s founders are walking the picket line, and they won’t give up without contract justice.