Is a New Chip Fab Plant Fabulous for Workers?

Good 21st-century jobs will be built on the basis of high-tech computer-based industries — this is a narrative that we have been told many times in the corporate press.

The construction of a new computer chip fabrication plant just north of the Capital District of upstate New York by GlobalFoundries is touted by the business and political establishment here as just such a boon for the area.

But, for the union production workers at the Momentive Performance Materials plant just south of the GlobalFoundries project, it might mean the end of any hope of maintaining the living standards that generations of workers fought for.

Why should the building of a new computer chip factory mean wage cuts for union workers nearby?

Lets take a look at some recent history.

In 2006, General Electric sold their Waterford, New York silicone products plant to Apollo Management, a private equity firm.  The workers there have been represented by IUE/CWA local 81359 for decades.

In 2007, the government of Abu Dhabi took a major stake in GlobalFoundries, as the computer chip maker Advanced Micro Devices spun off its chip-making capacity, in its quest to be another “fabless” chip company.

The influx of money from Abu Dhabi jump-started the chip fab plant for upstate New York, which is being subsidized by the taxpayers of that state to the tune of 1.2 billion dollars.

In November 2007, Apollo Management, the owners of Momentive, sold a nine-percent stake in Apollo to Abu Dhabi.

In December of 2008, in the middle of a negotiated contract period, Momentive unilaterally slashed the pay of its production workers by up to 50 percent.

In July, 2009, the ground breaking for the GlobalFoundries fab plant began.

Given the reality of the almost completely union-free computer industry, as typified by the giant IBM corporation, is there any doubt that the sequence of events just described points to a conscious anti-union strategy by the GlobalFoundries owners and supporters?

GlobalFoundries plans to hire a workforce of about 1,400.  To keep a union out, in heavily unionized New York State, would it not be desirable from the viewpoint of GlobalFoundries, and indeed the whole chip fab industry, to break the union just down the road from a major new facility?

Union jobs at Momentive, making far more than the chip fab standard, would both be a competitor for workers and an inspiration for union organization at GlobalFoundries.  Hence a motive for Abu Dhabi to invest in Apollo Management, and demand the wage cuts for production workers at Momentive.

Unfortunately for GlobalFoundries, the members and supporters of IUE/CWA 81359 have decided to take a stand against this egregious union busting.

Most recently, the union won a National Labor Relations Board complaint that will seek an order requiring Momentive Performance Materials to undo its one-year-old “restructuring” that cut 400 workers’ pay.  A hearing on the complaint is set for April 5 at 1 p.m. in Room 342 of the Leo O’Brien Federal Office Building in Albany, New York.

Workers from New York State have a big stake in winning this fight.  A win against Momentive could be the spark for a labor resurgence in upstate New York . . . and beyond.

Jon Flanders Jon Flanders is a member and former president of IAM LL 1145 and a member of the Troy Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

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