Fluoride Action Network

Union workers locked out of Honeywell’s uranium hexafluoride processing plant

Source: BuffFeed | August 2nd, 2014 | By Jacob Fischler
Location: United States, Illinois
Industry type: Nuclear Industry

After negotiations stalled just before midnight on Friday, union-backed workers have been locked out of Honeywell’s uranium processing plant in Metropolis, Ill.

And union representatives say if the past is any indication, the safety of those nearby could be at risk.

After the breakdown in talks, both sides agreed to head back to the bargaining table during the week of Aug. 18. Until then, the union workers will be out of a job.

Workers at the plant have been through something similar before. In 2010, workers were locked out for 14 months before a deal was reached.

But this time around, United Steelworkers spokesman John Smith said he thinks the union is in a slightly better position because the plant’s management has gone through changes and aren’t as experienced.

Honeywell said in a statement it was “disappointed” the union didn’t allow its members to vote on the latest proposal and called its latest bargaining proposal “unrealistic” — which the company said included 5% pay increases, additional union jobs and for “restricting a current practice of using qualified contractors for capital improvements and certain maintenance.”

In a letter sent to employees, Plant Manager Jim Pritchett said the deal they offered the union “matched those for 99 percent of Honeywell’s salaried and union workforces in the U.S.”

The union argues its main concern isn’t as much about money as it is about job security.

“The union will remain willing to negotiate with the company and operate the facility until we can reach an agreement that is fair for our members and secures our future,” spokesman John Smith wrote in a statement.

Meanwhile, Honeywell is keeping its plant operational with non-union salaried workers that have been trained and approved by the federal government.

But the union is concerned the workers they brought in don’t have the proper experience to operate the facility safely.

“It’s unfortunate that the company wishes to put the community at risk and customer expectations in jeopardy when we are willing to continue to operate the plant while we work to reach a fair and equitable agreement,” USW Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech said in a statement.

The Metropolis plant has had environmental problems in the past, which some have blamed in part on replacement workers brought in during the 2010 lockout.

In March 2011, Honeywell had to pay a $11.8 million criminal fine for improperly storing hazardous waste. Also in 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the plant $119,000 for safety violations. In January of this year, the plant was was fined another $90,000 for “three dangerous releases of hydrogen fluoride.”

BuzzFeed reached out to Metropolis Plant Manager Jim Pritchett on his office phone line, but he didn’t respond.

The Metropolis plant enriches uranium hexaflouride, which can be used as nuclear energy.