On Sunday in Waterford, dozens of Momentive Performance Materials workers donned red and black shirts that on the front read “We stood the line for 105,” and on the back said “Now we stand for the 26.”
The shirts served as a reminder of the 105 days they’d spent on the picket line up until last month, as well as a call to action to support several employees who were terminated by the company.
More than 100 people attended a rally at Chrome Food and Spirits in Waterford to show support for the 26 Momentive employees who were terminated during the strike. Co-workers, family members and friends gathered to raise awareness and money for those left unemployed, while union leaders vowed to fight on until the group returned to work.
“We can’t declare victory on anything in this fight without the 26,” said Dominick Patrignani, union president of the IUE-CWA Local 81359.
Workers at the Waterford chemical plant represented by IUE-CWA Locals 81359 and 8130 went on strike Nov. 2, 2016, protesting cuts to health care benefits and wages, as well as frozen pensions. The strike ended on Feb. 14 when a majority of the unionized workers voted to ratify a new contract.
The contract included 2 percent raises that employees will receive this June and in 2018, as well as protection of a matching retirement fund the company originally wanted to cut.
Close to 700 employees returned to work shortly after the ratification vote, but 26 workers were unable to do so after they were terminated. Eleven of them were fired for actions on the picket line, and are going through an expedited arbitration process.
The other 15 were fired for alleged sabotage of the company’s operations. Their fate will be determined by an investigator appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who will look into allegations and then either modify or rescind their termination.
Patrignani said the workers were terminated unjustly, and the union is planning a full-blown campaign to save their jobs. That started with Sunday’s rally, which included a raffle, live music and the opportunity to donate directly to the 26 workers.
“We will not stop, and we’ll use every effort and every tool available to us to support those members and get them back to work,” he said.
“I never expected to find myself [in this situation],” said one of the 26 workers, who asked not to be identified. “I had no previous issues with the company.”
He said he appreciated the support from his fellow union members, adding that he believes the strike brought the group closer together.
Jeremy Miller and Mark Phelps organized the effort to make T-shirts that were given out Sunday. Miller, who works at Momentive, said they had about 300 shirts on hand, and had raised around $500 so far.
The idea is that Momentive workers and supporters in attendance Sunday will wear the shirts around town to raise awareness for the cause.
Sue McCloskey, who’s retired from the Waterford silicones plant, was selling wrist sweatbands with a fist stitched into it as a symbol of solidarity, and the number 26 to represent the terminated workers.
Attendees were asked to donate at least $5 for the wristbands, with all proceeds going to the 26 workers, McCloskey said.
“It’s been unbelievable,” she said. “There’s a lot of support. It’s extremely important to be showing support to those 26 so they know they’re not left behind or forgotten.”