WATERFORD — The strike is over, but 700 union workers at Momentive Performance Materials still haven’t gone back inside the chemical plant.
Instead, they are taking mandatory eight-hour safety training, what many are calling “sensitivity training,” at the Hilton Garden Inn in Troy. The first group of unionized workers, roughly 75 employees, is due to return to the plant Friday for the 3-11 p.m. shift, said Dominick Patrignani, local president of IUE-CWA 81359. More workers will be phased in over the weekend, and by Monday, everyone should be back on the job, he said.
Patrignani, an instrument technician at the plant for more than 30 years, was due to take the training Thursday afternoon. He said he wasn’t too upset by the delay in getting back to work.
“I’m kind of more upset that this is what little they think of us,” he said.
As part of the training, workers are also being issued new helmets, shoes, badges and glasses, Patrignani said.
“I don’t know what they did with all the old stuff — it’s kind of disturbing.”
He said he was concerned about what he would find once inside the plant after three months without union workers and leadership.
“We hold them very tight to OSHA standards and OSHA regulations … and I can only imagine what we’re going to see when we get back,” he said.
Momentive spokeswoman Tina Reiber said the training, which started Wednesday, was necessary “in order to ensure safe and compliant plant operations.”
“Once union members complete necessary training, they will return to their normal shift schedules beginning as early as Friday,” she said.
A handful of Momentive workers drank beers at the hotel’s bar, the Recovery Room, after taking the training Thursday afternoon. None wished to be identified.
“Basically, what they did was give us four months’ worth of safety meetings, even though we’ve been out for three months,” said one employee, who has worked at the plant 27 years but asked to remain anonymous because he didn’t want to “be a target.”
The same worker said employees were also instructed on how to handle difficult conversations with “guys that crossed the [picket] lines while we were out suffering for our families.”
“And our families all suffered — trust me,” he said.
Another worker said the training was scheduled for eight hours, but that it only took him about six hours to complete.
The workers were on strike for 105 days, beginning Nov. 2, until Tuesday, when they ratified a three-year deal negotiated between Momentive and union leaders. The contract weakens health insurance for employees and ends health benefits for retirees. It keeps intact an annual retirement contribution the company wanted to reduce and also includes 2 percent raises for workers -- one in June, one in 2018 -- and a one-time $2,000 bonus.
Momentive had also wanted to cut the unionized workforce by 150, “and we were able to stop that,” Patrignani said.
He added, “There’s a lot of things we saved that we didn’t lose.”
The deal also establishes a process by which the 27 workers fired over alleged misconduct and sabotage during the strike can get their jobs back. A neutral investigator appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will look into the firings, and the union can file for outside arbitration for any workers not hired back, according to the contract.
“We have arbitration rights set up, so that should be very helpful,” Patrignani said. “Hopefully, we can get them exonerated and back to work. Until that happens, we can’t declare victory.”
He said he was proud of the union members for their dedication on the picket line. It was the union’s first strike over a contract since 1969, he said.
“I’m hoping [Momentive understands] that we’re not afraid to hit the street and do what we did,” he said.
Momentive, previously GE Silicones, was spun off to private equity firms in 2006.