By Cady Kuzmich
WATERFORD — Tensions ran high as Momentive Performance Materials employees on strike attempted to block the entrances outside the Waterford facility as busloads of new employees inched forward into the crowd Wednesday afternoon.
Workers walked out at noon after several months of negotiations between union representatives and the company, which began in June, failed to result in a contract.
“They just brought replacement workers in. It shows how very little they care about the community of Waterford and the workers,” said John Ryan, who has been working at the site for 26 years. “Just a couple years ago [the site] blew two people up,” he said. “They were in the hospital and almost died. If it wasn’t for our workers who did the brigade work to save their lives and get them to the hospital, they’d be dead. They bring these guys in here and put Waterford in jeopardy. They’re going to be running equipment that they can barely run when we’re in there. . . . Well, it shows how little they care about us and the community of Waterford. They just care about their pockets.”
The key issues those on strike are concerned about are health care and retirement benefits. According to the New York State AFL-CIO, Momentive’s most recent offer “would drastically raise workers’ health care costs and eliminate all retirement benefits for future retirees.”
Momentive Director of Corporate Communications Tina Reiber issued a statement from the company saying, “We have continued to engage in discussions with the union in hopes of reaching an agreement; however, the proposals put forward by the union have not provided a viable solution for the long-term sustainability of our Waterford and Willoughby [Ohio] sites, and no agreement has been reached.”
Citing the safety of its employees and the environment, the statement reads, “We have ensured that our operations are in a safe state for transition to a trained contingency workforce. Both sites will remain open during the work stoppage, and we will use this contingency workforce — in addition to leveraging our global assets and inventory — to serve our customers.”
Strikers stood and marched for hours with signs that read, “Robber barons are alive and well,” “Wage cuts don’t work,” and “Unskilled workers are running this chemical plant.”
A giant inflatable rat and a cigar-chomping pig with dollar signs in his eyes and a top-hat atop his pink head were set up by the strikers.
“Each contract we’ve taken a major hit on wages and pensions,” said Mike Urbaetis, who has worked at the site for 22 years.
The vice president of the IUE CWA 359, Darryl Househower, has put in 26 years with the company. “Overall, the contract is very concessionary,” he said. “We had a pay cut in 2010 — 400 members lost wages, some up to 50 percent,” he added. Three years later, he said, the contract froze pensions for anyone under 50 years old with less than 10 years with the company.
“The potential unskilled replacement workers the company is hiring from out of state to do the work of the over 700 highly trained members of IUE CWA puts the plant, the products produced at the plant, and the safety of the community at risk,” according to the New York State AFL-CIO.
“It’s going to get bigger and bigger with support from other unions,” Ryan said of the strike.
When asked how long he expected the strike to last, one striker said, “Only time will tell. They don’t want to bargain very fairly. It could get uglier as it goes on.”