FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Joe Drexler PACE Special Projects Director (615) 834-8590 or Joe Wilson PACE Organizer (256) 245-4141
Imerys withdrew recognition of the union in June, 1999 after it acquired English China Clays (ECC) and combined a much larger nonunion ECC plant with its unionized Georgia Marble facility located about 100 yards away. The company claimed the union no longer represented a majority of workers at the combined operation. PACE immediately formed an organizing committee, made up initially of union members from Georgia Marble, after the withdrawal of recognition, and started contacting nonunion ECC workers. The victory, according to PACE Organizer Joe Wilson, who led the drive in Sylacauga, was the culmination of a year-long campaign. "Most ECC workers had little knowledge of a union, and the company used brutal scare tactics to keep the workers from talking to union supporters from Georgia Marble," said Wilson. "Eventually, we broke the spiral of fear by fighting back with a combination of hard work, proven organizing methods and a sophisticated 21st Century global campaign that overwhelmed the company."
Central to the global campaign, orchestrated by PACE's Special Projects Division against Paris-based Imerys, was support received from European unions representing Imerys employees in Great Britain and France. PACE produced a video in English and French on Imerys "union-busting" and developed a web site (www.imerys-workers.org) devoted solely to the global campaign and to exposing the company's anti-union behavior. The website included a message board, which allowed workers to communicate and enabled unions in Europe to follow the campaign daily.
The union also sent two delegations to meet with European unions. One of the delegations included Imerys worker Keith Fulbright from the ECC side of the Sylacauga facility. Fulbright's accounts of Imerys' behavior to English, Belgian and French trade unionists prompted letters and protests. Workers in Great Britain represented by the Transport and General Workers Union wore stickers at some of Imerys' largest plants stating, "Stop Imerys Union Busting in the U.S."
Imerys became a target of the 20 million-strong International Chemical Energy, Mining and General Workers Unions (ICEM) to which PACE is affiliated. ICEM lobbied Imerys to stop its union busting by holding press conferences, issuing news updates on its website (www.icem.org) , and negotiating directly with Imerys' Director of Human Relations in Paris. Fred Higgs, ICEM General Secretary, traveled from ICEM headquarters in Brussels to a union rally in Sylacauga to show international support for the besieged workers at Imerys. Higgs also led a march on the plant together with Ken Zinn, ICEM North American Coordinator.
"Workers knew the union was a not a paper tiger after the sudden resignation of Dennis Redeker, former CEO of ECC and head of Imerys' pigments division, and were astounded by the international union support," said Fulbright. Redeker was viewed as responsible for the company's virulent anti-union attitude in the U.S.
The union exposed Imerys' union busting by obtaining a copy of a secret manual used to instruct management to campaign against the union and placed part of it on the web site. PACE also initiated the prosecution of Imerys for violations of U.S. labor laws.
The global campaign against Imerys peaked on May 9 at the Imerys shareholders meeting in Paris. PACE, ICEM and Walden Asset Management, a major social investment company, dominated the meeting and exposed shareholders to Imerys' anti-union practices. In response, Patrick Kron, CEO of Imerys, promised that "the company would not campaign against the union." Two of France's largest newspapers covered the meeting and printed stories embarrassing the company.
"Imerys management thought they were untouchable, but in the words of Frederick Douglas -- power concedes nothing without demand," said Joe Drexler, PACE Director of Special Projects.
The actions in Paris also prompted a major announcement to employees in Sylacauga that the company would henceforth conduct itself in an ethical manner and would not discriminate against workers for their pro-union beliefs. "Although Imerys had no intention of dropping its anti-union campaign, the announcement lifted a decade of deeply rooted fear off the backs of former ECC workers and made real communication with workers possible for the first time," said Leroy Nicholson, PACE Organizer.
When ECC acquired the Sylacauga plant in 1988, it dismissed virtually all of the union workers. Roger Bradley, PACE Organizing Director, stated, "This was a seminal event in the history of this small town, and we had to overcome layer upon layer of fear and show workers that victory was possible."
PACE members from Imerys' unionized plant in Dry Branch, Georgia also participated in the organizing drive, and were able to counter company attacks on the union.
"We are immensely proud of our union supporters, organizing committee, and Organizing Department who provided real leadership, showed great courage, and never gave up," said PACE Region 5 Vice President Don Langham.
PACE President Boyd Young lauded the assistance provided by ICEM and praised PACE's Organizing Department and Special Projects Division for "once again developing a brilliant strategy that broke new ground in international campaigns from which unions around the world can benefit." Young added, "I believe that PACE and ICEM have made history with this campaign and our victory."
PACE anticipates the start of bargaining soon for a first contract. "We hope the company will finally put aside its anti-union attitude and realize that the union and company must work together to make the Sylacauga operation a success," said Don Langham.
Imerys is one of the world's largest producers of industrial minerals.
PACE, based in Nashville, Tenn., represents 320,000 workers in the paper, chemical, energy and automotive supply industries. Additional information on the Imerys campaign can be obtained on the PACE website at www.imerys-workers.org.