USW BASF Council Leverages Solidarity in Dealing with World’s Largest Chemical Company

In June 1984, BASF shut its doors on 370 operators and maintenance workers at its Geismar, La., chemical plant in what would become one of the nation’s longest lockouts in U.S. labor history. It took solidarity, collective action and alliances with local and national groups, but after five and a half years, Local 620 ratified a new contract and got everybody back to work.

Thirty-five years later, BASF is still a corporate behemoth, but the USW has taken steps to build bargaining power and safeguard against this kind of protracted work stoppage.

The BASF Council, which met this year on July 29-30 in McIntyre, Ga., has been one of the most concrete ways workers from all the BASF units can share their stories, help each other plan for bargaining and ensure unity and solidarity across locations.

“The council has really matured into a great tool for each local,” said District 9 Director Daniel Flippo, who heads the BASF Council. “We leverage each one’s strength and solidarity to ensure that we are one, not only in bargaining, but also in day-to-day contract administration.”

For Doug Watts, chairman of the Local 13-620 BASF group at Geismar, La., the council has two primary benefits.

“It brought together groups representing sites we never would have had contact with because they were from different business groups,” said Watts.

“Second, BASF says it does not engage in pattern bargaining, but it actually does. It depends on where you’re at in the bargaining cycle. The council can give you a heads up. It’s a really good communication tool. It would be hard bargaining with the company without the council.”

Local 10-074 Scores Contract Win

Building power training and solidarity from within the USW BASF Council paid off big last spring when Local 10-074 in Monaca, Pa., ratified a new contract that beat back concessions, increased wages and strengthened contract language.

Drawing on what they’d learned in Building Power training, the bargaining committee circulated three new stickers throughout the 80-person unit for three weeks. Members also signed a solidarity poster, which they placed on a union bulletin board in clear view of members and management alike.

Unit President Wil Lynn consulted with the council in addressing proposed concessions, like changing from an eight- to a 12-hour schedule. With the weight of the council behind them, the unit was able to avoid major give-backs.

The contract also included a 2.95 percent wage increase each year of the six-year contract, improved successorship, union leave and health and safety language, and kept workers’ premium contribution the same.

Solidarity in Bargaining

Local 10-074 Unit President Wil Lynn said his unit’s new contract was at the end of the bargaining cycle.

“To be able to say, ‘This is what the company is telling me,’ helps,” said Lynn. “It makes the company be more honest on the direction it’s trying to go.”

The council also chooses its yearly meeting location strategically, holding it close to a bargaining location as a demonstration of solidarity.

Locals 9-233, 9-237 and 9-237-1 in Middle Georgia begin negotiations on Sept. 4. Their contracts expire Sept. 30.

Twenty-six people—19 of them were council delegates—toured four of the company’s sites in the area, and Tommy Daniels, president of Local 9-237, said he felt the council meeting helped the Middle Georgia locals prepare for bargaining.

“It showed the locals that we have the backing of the other USW locals,” he said. “It also prepared us to know what they have been through and what they came up against in their contracts.”

Daniels said he found the presentations to be helpful, especially the financial analysis of BASF, which showed the company’s profits and the CEO’s salary.

“This is information we do not normally get, and we can say to BASF, ‘You are not as broke or poor as you say you are.’”

Beyond Bargaining

Securing fair contracts at all the union’s BASF locations is a top priority, but the council does important work between bargaining cycles as well.

During the council meeting the locals discussed bargaining trends, challenges and successes in dealing with management, and grievances and arbitrations.  They also discussed health and safety, long- and short term disability practices and the company’s new leadership.

Keith Gilmer, Local 10-074 trustee from BASF’s Monaca, Pa., plant acknowledged the value of the council meetings and conference calls.

“If something happens at one site, we talk about it. It gives my local an idea of how we could handle an issue based on discussions with other sites.”

Also important is the camaraderie that’s developed between the council members.

“The yearly council meeting is like a family reunion,” Daniels said, “catching up on what’s going on at the other places. We’re more like friends getting information from each other than council members.”

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