Chlorine-related companies, including two major PVC suppliers, have joined forces with chemical-worker unions in an apparent effort to battle environmentalists and regulators.
The pact includes an agreement that employers will not oppose unionization of their plants.
The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) and the World Chlorine Council held a news conference Oct. 20 in Montreal to announce a ``new era in industrial relations.''
That new era includes pledges of mutual respect between labor and management, according to Kip Howlett, executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based Chlorine Chemistry Council.
``This agreement establishes a baseline of cooperation between management and labor on which we can build,'' he said.
In return for the declaration of peace, the unions will work with labor to address several concerns confronting the chlorine industry — most notably campaigns from environmental groups such as Greenpeace to ban the industrial production, use and disposal of the element.
``Unenlightened action [against chlorine] could have tremendous impact on our members, their families and the global economy,'' said Fred Pomeroy, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.
The agreement ``allows us to get on with working together in a spirit of cooperation on issues that deal with job security and the environment,'' he said.
PVC suppliers Geon Co. of Avon Lake, Ohio, and Georgia Gulf Corp. of Atlanta signed the agreement, joining six other chemical firms from the United States, Canada and Europe. Chlorine is a major component of PVC resin.
A large number of unions affiliated with the ICEM also joined the pact, including the United Steelworkers of America, United Food and Commercial Workers International and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
In all, the ICEM, which is based in Brussels, Belgium, includes 430 member unions in 115 countries representing 20 million individuals, said Vic Thorpe, ICEM general secretary.
``This is not an example of organized labor colluding with management to save jobs at any cost,'' Thorpe said.
Instead it will ``contribute to an atmosphere of mutual respect'' where ``the discussion of the real or perceived problems of our industry is possible,'' Thorpe said.
The union side seems to feel the pact is a victory in their organization efforts.
``The agreement that employers in the chlorine sector will not oppose the unionization of their plants is a major step forward,'' Thorpe said, adding that the unionization will help the rank and file join efforts to defend the industry.
The unions needed to feel they had the respect of management before joining forces, he said.
``It was a threshold that labor was not ready to pass until we got this kind of agreement,'' said Thorpe.
With the pact, labor unions and management agree to:
Recognize the role and legitimacy of trade unions in the workplace.
Not engage in ``derisive'' attacks on each other.
Recognize that free-market forces play ``significant roles in determining opportunities for employment and investment.''
Commit to job training for all workers.
Be prepared to support new technologies if they are ``required by sound scientific research and [are] consistent with the features of responsible care and the best health, safety and environmental practices.''
But apparently the common ground between workers and owners can only go so far.
``This is not the end of the adversarial relationship between labor and management,'' Pomeroy said.