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Momentive strike nears end with tentative pact

Momentive strike nears end with tentative pact

Strike has lasted 100 days
Momentive strike nears end with tentative pact
Momentive Performance Materials union workers on Dec. 1, 2016.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story indicated the strike is over. Striking workers, however, have not returned to work, and this version has been corrected to reflect that.

As state and federal lawmakers celebrated the news Thursday that the 100-day strike at Momentive Performance Materials could soon be over, union members still gathered around burn barrels outside the Waterford chemical plant held their applause. 

Momentive and IUE-CWA union officials had just announced that a tentative agreement was reached; the 700-plus union employees could be returning to work as early as Wednesday.

“We haven’t heard all the details for it,” said Scott DeVoe, a 26-year Momentive employee, who stood by a tent outside the plant’s boiler house where he hopes to get back to work. “We don’t know what’s going to happen once we get in with all the scabs that are still left in there. There’s a lot of things that are still up in the air.”

Dom Patrignani, president of local IUE-CWA 81359, said union members, while still gathered outside the plant, were standing down.

“A temporary stand-down,” he said. “We’re just taking it easy.”  

He declined to discuss the details of the tentative agreement, saying, “We have not actually got it distributed out to our members yet.”

“Out of respect to the members that have been on this picket line for 100 days, until I thoroughly discuss it with them, I can’t do anything other than that,” he said.

The agreement was fully endorsed by the IUE-CWA, the presidents and executive boards of local unions 81359, 81380 and 84707, as well as Momentive, the company said in a news release.

“We believe this agreement provides a fair, market-competitive package for our employees and their families while allowing Momentive to remain competitive,” said Jack Boss, president and CEO of Momentive, in a prepared statement. “With the endorsement of CWA leadership and the local union presidents, we look forward to ratification of the agreement, so that we can work together to serve our customers and build a stronger Momentive.”

The strike hit its 100th day Thursday. The agreement was reached after “several constructive meetings over the past few days,” according to Momentive. 

In the statement, Momentive thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and “numerous state senators and Assembly members for encouraging the recent constructive meetings with CWA leadership, in addition with the local union presidents, which resulted in bringing about the agreement.”

Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District One, said the agreement “addresses the concerns of our striking members about retirement health and pension security.”

“While our members still have to review and vote on the proposed agreement, the IUE-CWA local union bargaining team believes it has hammered out a deal which will give our members – both active employees and retirees – peace of mind for themselves and their families,” Trainor said in a prepared statement.

If the proposal is approved, 700 workers in Waterford will return to their jobs Wednesday, union leaders said. The agreement’s terms are being withheld until local union leaders have a chance to present details to the striking workers, according to the union. The vote will take place Monday and Tuesday, after weekend meetings to explain the contract.

DeVoe said he and the other workers “all want to go back in — that’s it.”

“At least they conceded to some of the things we wanted,” he said. “We’re going to be happy to get out of here and go back to work. We’re just hoping it runs smooth once we get in there, and not too much is messed up, and there’s not too many rules that got changed behind the scenes that you don’t see.”

The Waterford workers are represented by unions 81359 and 81380; the national agreement also affects a small union in Ohio, 84707. 

Union leaders also thanked state and federal representative for supporting striking workers.

“The CWA workers at Momentive play a critical role in our economy, and they are entitled to basic economic decency and fairness," Cuomo said in a prepared statement. “This agreement resolves the dispute – investing in the CWA’s world-class workforce, restoring operations at the plant and keeping upstate New York moving forward.” 

Schumer released a statement saying he spoke to Boss last week and urged him to “bring this impasse to an end.”

“So, this tentative agreement is a major step toward that goal, and puts the union workforce back on the job,” he said.

Workers have been on strike since Nov. 2, protesting cuts to health care benefits and wages, as well as frozen pensions. They were 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 have been frozen, according to union officials.

Union members also pointed to Momentive bringing on less-skilled replacement workers as the reason for a spike in oil and chemical spills at the plant since the strike began.

Last month, the state Department of Environmental Conservation cited the company for numerous health and safety violations found during six site inspections since union workers walked out.

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