Coordinated bargaining, international pressure help lodge prevail
FRENCH-OWNED LAFARGE, one of the top two cement companies in the world with operations in 76 countries, moved off its concessionary contract demands against Local D27 (Independence, Mo.) last October following a strong showing of unity among Boilermaker cement lodges and pressure from the international labor organization ICEM. The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers Unions includes over 460 industrial trade unions which collectively represent more than 20 million workers in 132 countries.
This is a victory not only for Local D27 but also for all of our cement lodges as well as the other unions who have contracts with global cement companies.
The reversal is seen as an important victory for international labor and proof that coordinated bargaining is an effective strategy in dealing with multinational companies.
Local D27 members, who work at Lafarge’s Sugar Creek plant near Kansas City, Mo., had faced take-backs on retiree medical insurance when contract talks opened in 2008. A key demand would have denied those taking early retirement the same coverage, at the same cost, as active employees. When L-D27 members balked at the take-backs, Lafarge declared an impasse and implemented the contract.
That move triggered a chain of events that ultimately brought L-D27’s plight to high-level labor and management attention in Europe.
Cement workers coordinate strategies
UNDER THE GUIDANCE of the Boilermakers’ Industrial Sector leadership, L-D27 developed a solidarity campaign among its members and reached out to the three other Boilermaker locals that have contracts with Lafarge. Members at the various lodges began wearing armbands and stickers as a show of unity.
L-D27 President David Herron said he stayed in regular contact with leaders of the other lodges through e-mail and computer-based instant messaging. They shared information about their strategies as well as company activities.
“It was tough for our members to hang together for so long,” he said. “We worked for a year under an implemented contract. There was a lot of uncertainty.”
He said the work of Director Carey Allen and International reps helped to keep members focused. “The Industrial Sector conference in July of 2009 also was a big help, because it gave leaders from cement locals a chance to sit down together and talk about what was going on with Lafarge,” Herron added.
Unions form coordinated bargaining network
WHILE L-D27’S STRUGGLE with Lafarge was unfolding, IVP-ISO Warren Fairley approached other unions that represent U.S. cement workers with the idea of creating a national network to coordinate collective bargaining strategies. The concept took hold, and with the backing of ICEM North America, the network held its formative meeting Feb. 9, 2009.
ICEM gave us the framework to bring unions together.
Known as the North American Cement and Building Materials Union Network (NACBMUN), the group is coordinated jointly by the Boilermakers and the Steelworkers. Other participants include the Mine Workers, the Laborers, and the Teamsters.
“We’ve been aware for some time that multinational companies have coordinated their bargaining strategies,” Fairley said. “We knew we needed to put unions in this industry on an equal footing, so we could share information about collective bargaining trends, grievance issues, and other matters. This network, gives us that capability. And our affiliation with ICEM has been invaluable.”
James Pressley, ED-ISO, agreed. “ICEM gave us the framework to bring unions together. It recognized the need for the [network].”
Pressley said Steelworker locals supported the coordinated bargaining effort in place for L-D27. Members of the network also lent their support to the Mine Workers, who were attempting to organize a cement plant in Southern Illinois.
Focus turns to international stage
WITH COORDINATED BARGAINING underway in the United States, the Boilermakers ratcheted up pressure on the international stage. IVP Fairley formally brought L-D27’s case before the ICEM at a meeting in Paris in Oct. 2008. That meeting also included senior management from Lafarge and representatives of the Building and Woodworkers’ International, another global union federation.
Then, at a June 2009 meeting of ICEM in Geneva, Switzerland, Fairley argued that Lafarge had failed to live up to its obligations under the ICEM’s Global Framework Agreement (GFA). GFAs encourage multinational corporations to adhere to high standards on trade union rights; health, safety, and environmental practices; and quality of work principles across a company’s entire global operations.
“These agreements are extremely important to corporations, especially in Europe,” Fairley said. “They indicate an organization’s commitment to social responsibility.”
Pressure was also brought to bear by International President Newton B. Jones, who serves as chairman of ICEM’s Materials Sector Committee. The sector includes cement, ceramics, and glass industries. Jones said the committee would seek to revoke Lafarge’s Global Framework Agreement if the firm did not relent. ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda personally delivered a letter to Lafarge executives notifying them of the committee’s intention.
“With coordinated support at the local, national, and international levels, Lafarge reconsidered its position,” said Jones. “All contract issues between the lodge and Lafarge have now been resolved.”
Jones added, “This is a victory not only for Local D27 but also for all of our cement lodges as well as the other unions who have contracts with global cement companies. Our success demonstrates what can happen when unions from around the world join forces.”
Pressley summed up the results this way: “It’s a new day. We are no longer going to challenge these employers solely on a local basis. If the local membership will stick together, we have the tools in place to fight these battles against the multinationals.”
Allen agreed. “This has been a textbook example of how to do coordinated bargaining.”