Members of the New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association joined hundreds of striking Momentive Performance Materials workers Thursday.
Dozens of association members attended a “Labor for Labor rally” outside the Hudson River Road plant, where Momentive employees have been on the picket line since Nov. 2.
Lately, they have been keeping warm with the help of burn barrels.
“They want to pick a fight with labor, well they’ve got a fight with labor. They woke the monster,” said NYSPFFA president Sam Fesina. “I don’t care if it takes weeks, month or a year. We’ve got people who run into fires. There is no fear here.”
Fire Fighters Association members marched down Hudson River Road in Waterford to join Momentive workers near the large inflatable rat and cigar-chomping pig that have been present throughout the strike.
“Our participation signifies two things: We are a labor organization demonstrating solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the IUE-CWA Local 81359, [International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers - Communications Workers of America] and replacing these professionals with unqualified people is a danger to the community,” Fesina said.
“Momentive boasts about corporate responsibility and the importance of being community minded,” he added. “They demonstrate none of those things by bringing in inexperienced workers while harming hardworking families during the holiday season. It’s hypocritical and unconscionable.”
Bill Ritchie, president of the Albany County Federation of Labor, told striking workers they were setting an example for other workers nationwide.
“You’re making history right now,” he said. “You’re making a pattern for the Capital Region, for the state and for the country. There will be no going back.
“We are sick of being exploited by the richest people in the world.”
Mark Emanatian, Director of the Capital District Area Federation of Labor, of which the Albany County Federation is a chapter, brought his wife and son to the picket line last week.
“My son had a hell of a good time,” he said, adding that his wife brought a burn barrel to the strikers.
“Bring your families,” he said. “Bring your kids. These lines need to be strong all the time.
“They’re coming after Social Security and Medicare. We are in the richest country, not in the world but in the history of the world, and working people need to get some of that.”
Dominick Patrignani, president of IUE-CWA 81395, also highlighted safety concerns regarding Momentive’s use of less-experienced workers during the strike.
“This is a facility that uses vast amounts of chemicals in all types of around-the-clock manufacturing processes,” he said. “Our team of hazmat experts train weekly so that we are prepared to respond and mitigate environmental and public-health incidences.
While we are disturbed that these executives are being unfair to our members, we are equally troubled that they would recklessly risk the public safety and the safety of their managers and replacement workers.”
Several union leaders mentioned the plant’s proximity to a nearby school.
Momentive, however, said work was continuing safely inside the facility.
“Today, the operation of our site is being overseen by our tenured Momentive engineering team and experienced supervisors who once operated the equipment,” said Momentive spokeswoman Tina Reiber, in a prepared statement.
Those supervisors “are the same employees the union operators would go to for help or advice during non-strike operations,” she added.
The replacement workers have also undergone the training needed to carry on safely, she said.
“To supplement our team, we sought out temporary replacement workers who have now been trained and qualified according to the same standards of our own employees,” she said. “All personnel who operate our processes complete testing and hands-on training, and they qualify to the same standards as our normal operators in full compliance with all regulatory standards.”
Patrignani, with the IUE-CWA, said the strike would continue until a new labor contract is signed.
“We’re not walking away,” he said. “All we want is a fair contract — nothing fancy. The rich are getting richer off the backs of the guys in Waterford. It has got to stop.”