The labor union trying to avert layoffs at Momentive Performance Materials said the company is endangering the environment and public safety.
Dominick Patrignani, president of Local 359, International Union of Electrical Workers/Communication Workers of America, showed up with about 20 members at this week’s Waterford Town Board meeting, warning about Momentive’s plans to outsource jobs and use lower-paid workers to handle hazardous chemicals.
“If there’s an accident, they don’t have a clue how to deal with it,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Local 359 represents 43 of the 49 workers the company says it wants to lay off by the end of this year. That would leave about 950 workers at the facility, most of them union members. Patrignani said he believes the 43 jobs would be outsourced to CEVA Logistics employees earning $12 per hour, as opposed to the $24 per hour earned by the Momentive union workers.
Waterford town Supervisor Jack Lawler said before the meeting that he was sympathetic to the union’s concerns, noting that Momentive has had environmental issues at the sprawling site of its factory, which is the former GE Silicones on routes 4 and 32 north of the village. “Their performance hasn’t been that great,” the supervisor said.
Stillwater Supervisor Shawn Connelly also attended the meeting. He said Thursday that he shared Lawler’s concerns. Both men are Republicans.
David Winchell, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said, “We have a number of pending enforcement issues, including water, air and hazardous waste violations” by Momentive.
But he could not provide details on Thursday, saying that either investigations or settlement actions are pending and that some of the violations may be minor.
“It’s not unusual for a factory of this size to have a number of violations,” Winchell said.
Momentive announced on Oct. 1 the plan to outsource its warehouse and plant services departments.
Under the terms of its union contract, it entered into a 45-day “decision bargaining period” that ends today, after which it presumably will announce whether it intends to proceed with or modify the plan.
Momentive issued a statement Thursday evening saying, “We are committed to assuring that all employees, contractors and third-party providers receive the appropriate training and perform their work in a safe manner.
“Momentive has significant experience working with dozens of contractors who handle and transport our materials.
If we hire a third-party provider to operate our warehouse, it will be an experienced global warehousing company.
The company under consideration requires a rigorous 80-hour pre-hire training program. In addition, they must have all regulatory and site-specific training completed and verified by Momentive prior to working on-site.
They will be held to the same high standards to which we hold all of our employees.”
Franklin Coreno, a member of Local 359, noted in an e-mail that Momentive receives substantial state tax incentives, some of them granted in state legislation passed this year to get the company to move its headquarters from Connecticut to Rensselaer County.
He said Momentive’s “robber baron” tactics have been “repeatedly rewarded by New York state. Not only is [Momentive] taking wrongful advantage of the New York taxpayers by representing a certain number of jobs at the Waterford plant in July of 2008 in order to qualify for $6.5 million worth of tax breaks and then turning around and immediately outsourcing those jobs to an underpaying third party, but the movement of jobs to unqualified, low-wage earners places the community at large at great risk to the dangers in the handling of hazardous materials.”
Katie Krawczyk, spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corp., said Momentive was in compliance with Empire Zone requirements as of the end of 2007, the latest information available.
As for whether outsourcing might disqualify the company from the state tax benefits, she said there is “not a simple yes or no answer” — ESDC generally considers investment and job creation figures, but outsourcing “certainly would be a factor taken into account.”
Ron Rybicki, president of the Saratoga County Council of Fish and Game Clubs, said he was concerned about inadequate maintenance of old dump sites on the Momentive property and the potential of toxic leaks into streams going into the Hudson River.
Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, who represents Waterford and sponsored tax breaks for Momentive in this year’s legislation, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
A Momentive statement said, “Momentive’s Waterford site prides itself on being prepared when responding to emergencies. To achieve this, we maintain a well-equipped, highly trained, on-site industrial emergency response brigade that is prepared to immediately respond to a variety of emergencies, such as fires, emergency medical situations, hazardous materials spills and rescue situations. Our brigade members are prepared to protect and respond to situations both on site and in the local community.
Upon request, brigade members also provide assistance and emergency response training to area municipal and volunteer agencies.”