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March 3, 2003

USA: UAW members demonstrate at Saint-Gobain’s US HQ

UAW members from two plants owned by Saint-Gobain have demonstrated outside the company's North American headquarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

By bcusack

UAW members from two plants owned by Saint-Gobain have demonstrated outside the company’s North American headquarters in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

The demonstration highlighted efforts by members of UAW Local 4069 to win a first contract at the Norton Abrasives factory in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is owned by Saint-Gobain.

The UAW said that union members were told that company officials were not available to meet with them. The demonstrators delivered petitions signed by UAW members to the Saint-Gobain’s headquarters.

“Saint-Gobain managers tried very hard to prevent workers at Norton Abrasives in Worcester from forming their own union,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. “They did not succeed, because those workers were determined to exercise their right to organise.

“Now, Saint-Gobain managers are trying equally hard to frustrate the collective bargaining process,” said Gettelfinger. “They will not succeed this time either, because UAW members at Norton Abrasives are determined to exercise their right to bargain a contract, and they have the full support of our entire union.”

“It’s been eighteen months since workers at Norton Abrasives, which is owned by Saint-Gobain’s, voted to form a union. That’s more than enough time to get a mutually beneficial agreement,” said Phil Wheeler who directs UAW Region 9-A, which includes Massachusetts.

In a press release, the UAW published an excerpt of a letter distributed to workers at Saint-Gobain headquarters in Valley Forge:

February 27, 2003

Dear Saint-Gobain Employee,

The experience and skill of the 800 Norton Abrasives production employees in Massachusetts contributes greatly to Saint-Gobain’s success as the worldwide leader in the abrasives industry. However, since Saint-Gobain took over the Norton Company, a number of things have happened:

Saint-Gobain changed the pay rate system that resulted in pay cuts for employees. A number of us are still earning thousands of dollars less a year than what we made twelve years ago. Pay for management and top executives were not affected by these cuts and they continue to receive substantial salaries and large annual bonuses.

Saint-Gobain eliminated the early retirement formula that allowed an employee to retire while still having the physical health to enjoy retirement. We lost a benefit that was promised to us when many of us were hired and are now forced to work many more years at physically grueling jobs.

Saint-Gobain shifted health care costs onto employees. Between premium sharing, co-pays and deductibles, a typical employee is now paying over $2,000 per year for health insurance. Retirees on a fixed income pay even more.

Saint-Gobain has disregarded employee health and safety. Because of unsafe working conditions, many of us have been injured including one of our co-workers who lost his fingers recently in an injury that was preventable.

Saint-Gobain has touted astronomical increases in sales and profitability. Between 1991 and 2000, profits increased from $400 million to $1.6 billion, a 292% increase. The Abrasives Division has been one of the top performers in the corporation in terms of profitability, including our facility in Massachusetts.

In August 2001, we took a first step at leveling the playing field by voting to join the UAW despite relentless opposition from management. Before and since our union election, Saint-Gobain has been found by the Federal Government to have repeatedly violated our legal labor rights. There are additional charges pending before the National Labor Relations Board. Furthermore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said it would cite the company for unsafe production equipment.

If this wasn’t enough, negotiations have gone on for about a year and the company has proposed that we give up more. We question whether the company is serious about bargaining in good faith. Management has already spent tens of thousands of dollars of profits wasting plant managers’ and supervisors’ time violating our legal rights instead of doing their jobs and addressing safety issues. They are also wasting untold sums of money on union-busting attorneys.

We are here to call on Saint-Gobain executives to rein in Massachusetts’s management and to urge them to settle a fair contract with us in a timely manner. We believe that Saint-Gobain can be a profitable company, a respectful employer, and a responsible corporation all at the same time.

We are determined to hold management to this standard. And as employees of the same company, we hope that you are not experiencing what we have been going through in Massachusetts.

Sincerely,

UAW Local 4069, Saint-Gobain Abrasives – Worcester, Massachusetts

UAW Local 365, CertainTeed IG – Mountaintop, Pennsylvania

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