Corporate America killing the men of steel
At 6:00 AM a dusting of winter weather and a flicker of casualties are nearly all that’s visible on the frontlines of a battle made in the USA.
“We’re fighting to keep our rights," said a locked out union worker, picketing outside the Honeywell factory where he works. "The United States is struggling as a whole for the working man.”
The battleground is best known as the hometown of Superman, and as the sun rises, there are signs everywhere of the sides taken in the fray. It's mostly support for the real men of steel here – the local steelworkers union.
Their allies know on the other side is "a big corporation with powerful attorneys and stockholders who have demands." That's according to Charlie Eichorn, a local business owner.
The company’s demands could pit corporate America against Middle America in any working class town but here in Metropolis Illinois this is the labor showdown of our day.
"I think it’s an outright war on the union," said Darrell Lillie, president of the USW local 7-669.
It's an alleged war launched by one of the most heavily armed defense contractors and manufacturing giants in the world.
The union president leads the charge fighting back for more than 200 workers left out in the cold since Honeywell locked them out of their plant.
“The nature of our job is we deal with hydrofluoric acid the worst acid known to man we deal with uranium," explained Lillie about their work.
That’s right; it’s uranium not kryptonite posing a threat in Superman’s real hometown. Honeywell is a company on track to post 35 billion dollars in sales this year selling things like jet engines to fuel the US army in the war on terror.
It wants the workers to foot more of the bill for their medical costs. The union refuses and believes the company really wants them out.
“And I take that as the union movement too," added Lillie.
Honeywell claims this is about money they say they’ve lost more than $100 million over 10 years at this plant alone but the workers claim this is about their livelihoods and more than that their lives.
They’ve constructed more than 60 crosses outside the plant near the picket line, which represent people who have either died or survived cancer they believe was related to the radioactive chemicals they were exposed to working at the plant.
"I was fortunate I lived through it," former plant worker Bob Schneider said of his situation.
According to him, colon cancer was Honeywell’s parting gift for retiree.
“I didn’t make the connection the federal government did," Schneider pointed out.
And this it was a push for productivity at the expense of safety that retiree Bill Klingensmith accuses Honeywell of, which he believes led to near fatal chemical burns on his face and lungs.
Once the union is gone he argues workers will be more vulnerable.
"This company will push them to, ‘you either do it, or you hit the road,'" warned Klingensmith.
But even small town workers are supposed to have an ally in a high place fighting to “protect your benefits and safety, protect your rights to organize and collectively bargain." That was US President Obama addressing union members in a speech.
The US President would be a powerful force to face off against Honeywell, namely CEO David Cote.
“He’s absolutely the most prominent union buster in the United States of America right now,” labor activist Mike Elk said of David Cote.
But the so-called union buster and union supporter are cozy. During the lockout, Cote went to India with the President touting job creation. And he got a spot on the fiscal deficit commission to have a say on government spending.
“He was on there recommending we have cuts to troop salaries troop benefits rather than cuts to weapons manufacturing as someone who makes money in weapons manufacturing," pointed out David Swanson, author of "War is a Lie."
In fact, Honeywell has received $13 billion in government contracts mainly in defense since 2005 and appears poised only to rake in more. How did they get this influence?
“Honeywell is at the top of the heap, when it comes to putting money into politics at the federal level,” explained Dave Levinthal, Spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group.
They spent nearly $4 million on political contributions in 2010 and as more than that on lobbying.
As for the workers, who feel they're fighting 'Goliath' going up against a multinational corporation, at the union hall, they stock up on donated food to get through winter without work.
And sharpen their rallying cry.
"This is a class war," insisted John Paul Smith, spokesperson for the USW 7-669. "This a war all across the country on the middle class."
While corporations post record profits and unions have devolved to a dirty word, they have a long way to go. Still they say they aren't going anywhere.
They're fighting at all hours for rights they say workers in this country can no longer afford to lose.
"It starts down here in rural Illinois and we’re hoping it reverberates throughout the nation," said Stephen Lech, a member of the USW 7-669 executive board.
Robert Greenwald, the president of Brave New Films explained America is seeing a throwback to the historical precedent of labor rights protests.
“Workers are being denied benefits and wages that they worked for and negotiated for,” he said. “In the 1930’s workers were organizing to better their lives, here they are fighting to prevent it from going backwards.”
Greenwald explained unions are necessary to ensure workers rights are guaranteed and should not be infringed upon.
“The notion that the librarian needs to be penalized, the school teacher needs t be laid off or the policeman needs to be fired because of the budget issue is wrong on every level. It’s wrong economically, it’s wrong morally and it’s wrong practically,” he commented.
Obama once supported unions, and continues to claim he does, however he has also appointed Honeywell CEO David Cote to the National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility.
“I believe in Unions,” Obama once claimed.
However, Honeywell spends millions of lobbying efforts and works directly with Obama.
“You have corporations spending far more to fight paying workers than they are to pay workers,” Greenwald said.
Many continue to wonder why these corporations do not use that money and resources to further aid workers and stay in business.
“Unions have provided and built a step latter for many people to join the middle class,” Greenwald explained. “Capitalism has only been effective when there have been some restrains on corporate greed and those restraints are sadly being taken away today.”
He explained balance is needed in the system to ensure the stability of the middle class and ensure workers rights are respected.