EDIT 2/8/17: The text of this article has been updated to show that the Blackstone Group sold its stock in Momentive in August. The original audio of the story remains posted.
A group of New York state lawmakers appeared in Saratoga County on Monday to meet with picketing union workers at a Waterford chemical plant.
Timothy Larson, a logistics operator at Momentive Performance Materials in Waterford, stood outside the main gates with a megaphone as trucks pulled into the site in freezing temperatures.
“We see everything that’s going on here. You cannot replace 700 world-class operators with a busload of low-class scabs. It ain’t gonna work!”
Union workers with IUE-CWA Local 81359 and 81380 have been striking for more than three months, since November 2nd.
Located at what was once a General Electric facility, Momentive was sold by GE a decade ago. The company is owned today by New York City-based hedge funds.
Strikers are demonstrating against the Momentive leadership they say is controlled by hedge funds including Apollo Global Management and the Blackstone Group. Blackstone, which obtained stock in the company in 2014, sold its stock in the company in August.
On Monday, several members of the New York State Assembly joined in solidarity with the striking workers.
Local 81359 President Dominick Patrignani showed the politicians to one of the several gates were striking workers were gathered by a pop-up tent.
“Are you ready?” Patrignani asked, followed by a short blast from an air horn. “The kids developed a nice little electronics system where they every so often blast that horn just to kind of wake people up. Just a little engagement back at the company.”
Looking out across the property, Patrignani explained that union members have taken two cuts in pay and benefits since 2010.
“It’s now 2017 and their wage is still below what it was in 2008. There’s a whole bunch of people here that still make less than…look at all that inflation and all that time period, and they still make less per hour. And it was mainly the manufacturing people. That’s the heart and soul of this business,” said Patrignani.
The Momentive plant is located in Assemblyman John McDonald’s 108th District. He, along with fellow Democrat Carrie Woerner of the neighboring 113th, invited lawmakers from across the state to join the picketers.
“We’re gonna be putting many members of the Assembly on one letter asking management back to the table. Their presence here today is just a little glimmer of the large amount of support that you have throughout this community. Keep up your vigilance. We’re behind you 110 percent,” said McDonald.
Capital Region Assemblymembers Phil Steck and Pat Fahy, both Democrats, and Mary Beth Walsh, a Republican, also gathered. They were joined by Democrats Sean Ryan of Buffalo, Harry Bronson of Rochester, and Mike DenDekker, Nily Rozic, and Felix Ortiz from New York City.
As the lawmakers spoke, workers wearing coveralls and stocking caps voiced their concerns, including union member Tom Izzo.
“I want some kind of medical for when I leave so when I do get sick or anything I can be covered. I’ve got 30 years here now. That’s a long time to be dealing with the types of chemicals that are in that plant,” said Izzo.
Some chemicals used at the plant include chlorine, hydrochloric acid, and Trichlorosilane. The union says the replacement workers create a risk for a “chemical disaster” since they don’t have as much experience at the site.
Tina Reiber, a spokeswoman for Momentive, sent WAMC a lengthy statement. The document claimed that the company and Waterford plant need to be more competitive.
The company says it was aware that the lawmamkers visited the site and said its “position has been and continues to be that a strike benefits no one, and we remain committed to reaching an agreement with the union.”
Reiber pointed out that at the last negotiation session called for by union workers in January, Momentive did not accept an offer by members of Local 359. She said the union members then left the bargaining session a day early.