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Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005 10:10 am

Locked out

A labor dispute in Meredosia drags on

Kelly Street can barely be heard over the chorus of his chanting comrades and the din of car horns honking in support. “Scabs! Scabs!” they shout. Beep . . . beep . . . beeeeep. It’s shift change at the Celanese Emulsions plant in Meredosia, where replacement workers taunt picketers by waving their paychecks in the air. This summer, after six months spent trying to hammer out a contract, Celanese Corp. locked out some 80 members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and brought in temporary workers from the South — “red states,” Street says. The former National Starch and Chemical plant, which produces emulsions used to make paints and other products, employs 150 people and was purchased in late 2004 by Dallas-based Celanese. Union members were prepared to accept, albeit reluctantly, the company’s best and final offer, but the plant’s managers withdrew the deal, says Street, president of Local 484 of the Boilermakers. Celanese then said it would be cutting pay by $6 an hour and changing health-care and retirement benefits. Since then, neither the union nor a federal mediator has been successful in bringing management back to the bargaining table. Local 484 is in the process of submitting affidavits to the Illinois Labor Relations Board accusing Celanese of refusing to bargain in good faith by engaging in regressive bargaining and using Morgan County sheriff’s deputies and a private security firm to intimidate its members. “They offered such a bad package that they knew there was no way in the world we would take it,” Street says. “Now they’re pissed because we got unemployment that they told us we weren’t going to get. They’re upset, and their pride has gotten in the way.”
Street also says that improperly trained workers at the chemical factory — who, he says he’s heard, are “messing up each other’s work” — pose a safety hazard to themselves and to the community. “[Celanese] wants to act like they’re good for this community, and they’ve got people out there that they just turned their backs on,” Street says. “They’re not a good neighbor, and I don’t care what they say.”
Officials at Celanese’s Dallas headquarters and the Meredosia plant did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
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