(From the June 27, 2011, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
HENRY, Ill.—A contract dispute between management and workers at the Emerald Performance Materials plant in Henry is entering its fourth month, and the end is not in sight.
On one hand, Teamsters Local 627, which represents workers at the Emerald facility, accused management of seeking draconian pay cuts and trying to compromise safety at the plant.
On the other, Emerald—a producer of specialty polymers, silicones, emulsions and chemicals based in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio—accused the union of disseminating false and misleading statements about the company's goals, and reaffirmed its commitment to keep the plant both safe and globally competitive.
The Emerald Unions Council, consisting of Teamsters Local 627 and other union locals organizing Emerald facilities across the U.S., held a news conference June 9 outside Henry's Village Hall.
At that point, union officials said, union workers at Henry had been locked out of the plant for more than 10 weeks, and inexperienced replacement workers were running operations there.
Union fights wage cut
At the crux of the dispute, union officials said, is Emerald's demands that workers at Henry accept a 30-percent pay cut and agree to the downgrading of the facility's safety features. This downgrading, they said, included outsourcing of the plant's quality control lab and the elimination of the position of environmental health and safety operator.
“What brought us together is an unprecedented attack on the livelihood of our members,” the council said in a prepared statement. The council also accused Emerald management of trying to force aggressive cuts on workers at the Kalama, Wash., facility, and said Emerald workers in Akron fought back sharp wage cuts in a 2009 contract dispute.
The council was particularly critical of Sun Capital Partners, the private equity firm that formed Emerald Performance Materials in 2006 after buying certain assets of Lubrizol Corp. It accused Sun Capital Partners of being more interested in maximizing current profits than in Emerald's long-term viability.
“We want Emerald to succeed; our livelihoods depend on it,” the council said. “But we believe that Sun Capital's current approach is destroying our company and our jobs.”
Since the June 9 protest, Teamsters Local 627 has received only one brief, pro forma fax from Emerald management, according to Keith Gleason, Local 627 President.
“We received their offer on a Sunday,” Gleason said regarding the original lockout. “We indicated to the company that we were willing to negotiate, but we were locked out at 3 p.m. the following day.”
In a June 17 statement, Emerald Performance Materials said it is disappointed in what it calls deceptive tactics by the Teamsters.
“These tactics serve to distract from the main focus of contract negotiations, which are based totally on the need to make this plant competitive,” the company said.
“We have an ongoing commitment to the safety of the plant, its workers and the community,” Emerald said.
Since acquiring the Henry factory in 2006, it has invested more than $10 million in enhancing plant safety and reduced overall plant emissions by more than 60 percent, it said.
Experienced management employees, supplemented by trained temporary workers, currently staff the Henry plant, the company said.
“We remain committed to reaching an agreement that will help make this plant competitive with foreign manufacturers, especially China,” Emerald said.
The company has met with the union multiple times through a federal mediator, and the next meeting is scheduled for July 5, it said.
Emerald Performance Materials is known for products such as its Hypro reactive liquid polymers and Nychem specialty emulsions, both formerly sold under the Hycar brand name.
The company has eight operations and about 700 employees, according to Emerald.