Labor Voices: Company offers a cautionary tale


For decades, men and women of Honeywell Aerospace Corporation in Green Island, New York, and South Bend, Indiana, crafted the wheels and brakes that our military and commercial aircraft rely on every day.

But on the Monday after Mother’s Day when they showed up for work, they were escorted out of the plant and locked out from working, simultaneously in both states. As one UAW member said, it was the culmination of a months-long process to take away the dignity of a workforce that takes great pride in its work.

Months earlier management brought in “observers” who hovered over the longtime Honeywell craftsman watching them work. It quickly became apparent these observers were being trained to do their long-held jobs.

What followed were labor negotiations where the company ripped up decades-old agreements. The company’s health care proposal allowed it to change bargained benefits at will and even site by site; long-held agreements on overtime and policy agreements worked out for decades with management outside of bargaining were discarded by the company. It even unilaterally decided to subcontract certain work. Not surprising, the company’s offer was rejected overwhelmingly in both New York and Indiana.

Imagine bargaining and signing a contract for health care that says the company can ignore what it just signed at any time, for any reason and at any place. What would be the point of bargaining benefits?

So, on that fateful Monday in May, these loyal, longtime employees with decades of experience and craft found themselves escorted by security to the outside looking in at the “observers” who a few months earlier hovered over them while they worked.

Honeywell is a company that receives almost $4 billion a year in taxpayer-funded government contracts mostly for military aircraft. The company in 2015 earned over $4.8 billion in profits with over 9 percent of the company profit coming from government aerospace contracts. Almost all the major domestic airlines contract with Honeywell Aerospace, and the CEO received $25 million in salary, bonuses and stock options in 2015.

Six months later, Honeywell workers who were relying on unemployment and support from workers across the country continue to show up outside the gates of the company they used to take such pride in, while the company openly flaunts health and safety inspections and efforts at compromise.

Even in the midst of the hardship of their unemployment running out, Honeywell members voted down another company offer last month.

Imagine the courage of conviction these men and women must have to stand tall in the face of their families’ financial trouble.

And let this be a cautionary tale. Workers should not be forced to train a replacement or be fired, accept a contract or be locked out with no salary, or have their dignity shattered simply for voting for fair and equitable pay and benefits. Never has a union been more vital. Never has a company that soars in profit descend so swiftly and calculatingly for more profit on the backs of its longtime loyal union workers.

Jimmy Settles is vice president of UAW Ford and aerospace departments.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.