Pasadena Workers Fight for a First Contract

This article originally appeared in Standing Strong at Solvay: April 2018.

Kennieth Nelson, a lab technician, helped organize Solvay’s Pasadena, Texas, plant because he felt a union was needed.

“I think with the right mindset, unions are healthy for management because everything is on paper and you know what is going on,” Nelson said.

“I’d like to see a more genuine and harmonious relationship between management and the employees, with the mindset we all have the same goal. It is not ‘us against them.’ We need a culture change of fairness and accountability between each other,” he added.

Solvay corporate management in Brussels has said similar remarks. Brussels officials signed the Global Forum Agreement (GFA) and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Labor Relations in the U.S. last year.

These documents specify the company’s desire to work with its unions, not hinder organizing efforts, and negotiate quickly with unions.

However, U.S.-level corporate management appears to act like these documents do not exist. District 13 Staff Representative Marcos Velez said the company is dragging negotiations for a first contract and offering concessionary proposals.

“The company’s proposals negate the purpose of having collective bargaining,” Velez said. “Management rights are three pages saying management can do anything it wants, however it wants.

“If we propose a start, stop time or the number of hours a person can work, we’re told management has the right to set hours as it sees fit. There really are no rules of engagement,” he said.

Negotiations began January 29, 2018 and both sides have met a few times. Velez said progress has been slow, with only a few language items settled.

Stall Tactics

Here is an example of how bargaining has progressed:  Velez said it took three bargaining sessions to negotiate nondiscrimination language.

“This is the first company I’ve had to argue with over what is the meaning of nondiscrimination,” Velez said. “A company negotiator said that if Solvay overly describes discrimination, it could put them in a bad way. He said the company would follow federal laws.

“We say all discrimination is wrong and you should define it to prevent it from happening. We want protections as to how the company plans to follow federal law and go above and beyond it,” he said.

He said Solvay has rejected all health and safety language, such as the right to a safe workplace, the right to immediate medical attention when injured, and the right to refuse unsafe work without reprisal.

Also rejected were organizing neutrality language and a successorship clause to protect the union and the contract in case the facility is sold.

“We spent four-and-a-half hours fighting over what “just cause” meant, so I had to give examples. Who do you encounter in contract negotiations these days that doesn’t understand ‘just cause’?

“Progressive discipline and the grievance and arbitration process took a while to settle, and are the only substantial pieces of language we were able to resolve. Had it not been for the solidarity action from the Solvay council, I do not believe we would have settled those issues.

“We also resolved jury duty, bulletin board usage and access to employee records. These simple issues took multiple days to negotiate. We haven’t even gotten to wages and benefits yet,” Velez said.

Scheduling bargaining time has been difficult, he said. Both sides met only four times in March and April. One additional day is scheduled in June.

“I think the company is dragging out negotiations to break our group, and is hiring workers in hopes of diluting the bargaining unit,” Velez said. “But the new employees are supportive of the union. We have a solid group here that is prepared for the long haul.”

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