Skip to main content

labor Honeywell Workers Say Lockout Aims to Destroy Union: 'It's corporate greed'

UAW members, prevented from working for four months, question the company’s claimed concerns over ‘stark economic realities’ in the aviation industry.

‘Bottom line, they want to get rid of the union completely,’ a demonstrating worker said.,Mike Derer/AP

More than four months into the lockout, Allan Enright and Jose DeLeon – both wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a bald eagle and the word “Solidarity” – were picketing outside the Honeywell factory that makes airline brakes.

On a street without any traffic or pedestrians, the two were showing their defiance toward Honeywell, the aerospace plant in South Bend, Indiana, which locked out 316 union members here on 9 May after they voted overwhelmingly to reject a proposed contract that they say contained a significantly worse health plan.
Honeywell says it locked out the members of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) – and brought in replacement workers – to assure continued production and meet customers’ deadlines. Enright, 59 and soft-spoken, sees things differently. “Bottom line, they want to get rid of the union completely,” he said. “That’s why they locked us out.”

Honeywell and the UAW resumed talks this week after reaching a stalemate but tempers are high. The company has embraced a weapon that has grown increasingly popular across corporate America as organized labor has grown weaker: locking out workers to throw the union on the defensive and perhaps break the union’s and the workers’ will.

“I really think they’re just trying to hold us out, to make us hungry, to make the membership fold,” said Bryan Rodgers, the recording secretary of UAW Local 9 in South Bend. Honeywell has also locked out 42 UAW members at a second airline brake factory, in Green Island, New York, just north of Albany.

Notwithstanding on-again, off-again negotiations, the company and union have been deadlocked since May. Tensions have festered and the workers have grown restive as the clashing sides continue to present vastly different views of the situation. The UAW says the airline brake factory here has fallen badly behind in keeping up with customer orders, while Honeywell insists that production is going well, better than with its unionized workforce.

The union asserts that Honeywell should not be demanding concessions on health coverage, seniority and other matters when the company had record profits of $4.77bn last year and income in its aerospace division rose. But Honeywell says it needs to rein in costs because the aviation industry has hit some turbulence.

“The union is ignoring the stark economic realities currently facing the global aviation industry, which has lost approximately 35,000 jobs since 2015,” said Scott Sayres, a Honeywell spokesman.

That doesn’t persuade John Suher Sr, a 60-year-old millwright, who is furious about the lockout. “It’s basically corporate greed,” he said. “They want to eliminate the middle class.”

The dispute’s main sticking point is health coverage. Union members say Honeywell’s proposal would make many of them pay several thousand dollars more each year for health coverage. They also complain that Honeywell is demanding the power to unilaterally change health coverage, premiums and deductibles without the union’s approval.

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

“The unilateral healthcare changes are unacceptable to us,” said the UAW’s Rodgers. “They want to be able to change healthcare any time they want.”

But Honeywell’s Sayres defended the proposal. “We are offering the same healthcare benefits available to nearly all other Honeywell employees in the US, including those represented by unions,” he said.

On a recent afternoon, Enright and DeLeon carried placards with bright red letters saying “UAW Locked Out”, as they stood alongside a makeshift shelter – a grey tarpaulin held up by wooden poles stuck into concrete-filled plastic buckets. A previous shelter had literally blown away during a ferocious summer storm.

Wearing a bandanna on his head to shield him from the sun, DeLeon, a Honeywell employee for seven years, acknowledged the lockout was taking its toll. “It’s a struggle,” he said. “I have a daughter in college, and my wife is ill. She’s only got a part-time job. Between that and unemployment insurance, we’re making it.”

Many workers are getting by only because they receive $390 or so in weekly unemployment insurance. But they worry about what will happen when those benefits expire in November.
The Honeywell workers average $22 an hour, or $45,760 a year for a full-time worker before overtime. Honeywell, however, says average total compensation exceeds $80,000 a year, including overtime and benefits – a number the union disputes. The company’s contract offer includes a 8% raise over five years.

The UAW has sought to turn up the pressure on Honeywell. On 21 September, 100 union members and supporters demonstrated outside a federal building in Albany to protest against the government’s recent decision to award Honeywell’s South Bend factory an $18.3m contract to produce replacement brakes for the navy’s F/A-18 plane.

Julie Kushner, director of the UAW’s New York region, said: “We believe the government should stop giving new contracts or extending old contracts to a deplorable company that is locking out its workers and destroying good, middle-class jobs.”

Barbara Fick, a labor law professor at Notre Dame University here, questioned how long the workers could hold out. “These workers were used to making pretty good money,” she said. “And if they’re out four or five months without wages, they have obviously got to be hurting.”