Momentive workers appeal to lawmakers
As more than 700 Momentive Performance Materials workers enter their 92nd day on the picket lines Wednesday, they hope President Donald Trump is listening.
Dom Patrignani, local president of the Waterford chemical plant’s IUE-CWA 359, said a lot of the union workers voted for Trump less than a week after they walked out on Nov. 2, protesting cuts to health care benefits and frozen pensions.
“They actually stepped up and supported Donald Trump because of the way he talked to people,” Patrignani said Tuesday during a rally at the state Capitol. “And he said he was out for the little guy, he was out for the middle class, he was out for the working person.”
Patrignani, an instrument technician at the plant for more than 30 years, said it was concerning to then see Trump nominate Steve Schwarzman, who owns a portion of Momentive, as his “job growth and creation guy,” or economic adviser.
“Hopefully we can get more people to get to [talk] to Donald Trump and maybe he will change his mind and say, ‘Hey, Steve, what are we doing here?’” Patrignani said. “‘It’s not looking good for the administration with a bunch of people in upstate New York on strike, out of work, being replaced right now by … Canadians?’”
Union workers also hope state lawmakers are listening — and brought their strike to the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby more than 30 state senators and assembly members. About 50 union members were joined at the rally by several Capital Region lawmakers who called on Momentive to agree to a fair contract so the striking employees could get back to work.
“Ninety-one days — 91 days that 750 highly-skilled local workers have been off the job and out of work,” said Sen. Kathy Marchione, R-Halfmoon. “For real people, this means real consequences. It means uncertainty and fear for their future — their family’s future.”
The workers are also fighting to stop the elimination of health care benefits and pensions for retirees. Since Momentive, previously GE Silicones, was spun off to private equity firms in 2006, wages have been slashed up to 50 percent and pensions frozen, according to union officials. Striking workers also point to Momentive bringing on less-skilled replacement workers as the reason for a spike in oil and chemical spills reported at the plant since the strike began.
Momentive and union officials were scheduled to resume contract negotiations with the assistance of a federal mediator on Jan. 10, but those talks fell through. Patrignani said company officials delayed that meeting because they were in Saratoga County Court, trying to place strict limits on picketers outside the plant’s entrances, before rejecting the union’s offer, which was “nothing to write home about.”
Momentive spokeswoman Tina Reiber previously said the union presented a proposal that “puts us significantly further apart than their previous offer.”
“It’s embarrassing what we’ve been going through,” Patrignani said.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, said the strike is about public safety as much as it is about protecting good-paying jobs. She said Momentive has gone from five reported spills per month to one every 2.6 days since the strike started, and that’s because union workers are “outside the wall and not inside the wall.”
“This is not a perfume factory, this is not a bakery — these are dangerous chemicals that these men and women work with each and every day,” Woerner said, “and we need to make sure that the people that are in the plant that are handling these chemicals are the most highly skilled people we can have.”
Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, whose district extends into Waterford, agreed.
“Let’s get back to the table, let’s get these individuals back to doing what they do best, and by the way, they do it in a more safer fashion,” he said.
On Friday, the state Department of Environmental Conservation sent a letter to the owners of Momentive listing numerous violations found during six site inspections since union workers walked out. The violations come with a fine in a consent order, which sets deadlines for the company to fix the problems. The state agency also noted missed deadlines for improving the company’s handling of waste, which Momentive blamed on the strike.
“Future extension requests based solely on conditions relating to the ongoing strike will not be granted,” the DEC’s letter states. “[Momentive] cannot continue to operate the facility, bringing it back to full production with contingency workers, while at the same time claiming you are unable to comply with the permit as written. [The company] must hire the qualified consultants or other qualified individuals that will come on-site and perform the work necessary to meet the permit requirement deadlines.”
Erica Ringewald, a DEC spokeswoman, said the agency will use all authorities available through the Environmental Conservation Law to hold Momentive accountable.
Reiber said Momentive takes compliance with the health and safety regulations very seriously and has had “detailed discussions with members of the DEC to address their concerns in a cooperative manner.”
She also said the strike benefits no one, “and we remain committed to reaching an agreement with the union.”
Source: Daily Gazette
Momentive workers appeal to lawmakers