The union representing workers at two Continental Carbon Co. carbon black plants has added fuel to its labor dispute with the company by threatening a lawsuit over alleged violations of environmental laws at those locations.
The Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union served Houston-based Continental Carbon Feb. 25 with a notice that it intends to sue over the alleged violations at the firm's Ponca City and Sunray, Texas, facilities.
A 60-day notice is required prior to the filing of a federal suit seeking civil penalties, injunctive relief and witness and attorney fees, according to Rick Lowerre of Lowerre and Kelly, the Austin, Texas, law firm representing the union. The lawsuits would be filed in federal courts in Oklahoma and Texas.
Workers at the Ponca City plant have been locked out for about 10 months over a contract dispute. The company said the allegations are without merit.
PACE also served notices to Continental Carbon's parent companies, Taiwan-based China Synthetic Rubber Co. and Taiwan Cement Corp. The alleged violations, according to PACE, include:
* failure to obtain a hazardous waste permit;
* acceptance of hazardous wastes without authorizations;
* failure to make hazardous waste determinations;
* failure to dispose of hazardous waste properly; and
* failure to investigate releases of hazardous wastes.
The union cited particularly the company's alleged failure to treat carbon black oil-the tarry residue left over from oil refining and used to make carbon black-as a hazardous waste. Carbon black oil can contain chemicals causing cancer and other health problems, PACE said.
Lowerre claims the company has violated laws including the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, and the emergency planning and community Right-To-Know Act.
The filings were shared with the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, PACE said.
Ken Allen, Continental Carbon director of human resources, said the company believes the accusations will prove to be groundless. But Continental Carbon will take any allegations seriously.
The firm has contacted both the TNRCC and the ODEQ and expects representatives from both agencies to come to its plants as part of their investigations, Allen said.
``We'll have our own internal reviews and we'll have visitations. We look forward to it,'' he said.
Continental Carbon has endured complaints originating from the union in the past regarding the environment surrounding its Ponca City, Sunray and Phenix City, Ala., facilities. In late January, PACE asked the EPA and ODEQ to look into a site located near the Ponca City plant where chemical barrels and other industrial waste had been dump-ed. An investigation is ongoing regarding that issue.
About 85 members of PACE Local 5-857 in Ponca City have been locked out since May 7, 2001. The company and union clashed over economic issues, and Continental Carbon decided a lockout was its best option to keep its leverage inside the plant, choosing to operate the facility itself.
Little progress has been made in working out a new contract. Allen said the company has invited the union back to the bargaining table many times, but the members have been unresponsive. Joe Drexler, PACE special projects director, said the two sides have been ``worlds apart'' on the issues and the firm's proposals have been regressive.
Drexler said the investigation into Continental Carbon's environmental practices is part of PACE's corporate campaign to put pressure on the company to negotiate fairly. Allen wouldn't comment on the union's involvement on pending or future investigations at its plants.