Henry: Locked Out Workers Express Concerns About Satefy

By Ashley McNamee

June 30, 2011 Updated Jun 30, 2011 at 9:37 PM CDT

Union workers at the Emerald Performance Material Plant in Henry have passed a troubling landmark.

They've been locked out for more than 100 days.

Union leaders say they have scheduled a bargaining session with the company next week.

In the meantime, it is all the talk and smell in Henry.

"Especially if the wind is in the right direction, it might come into town," said Don Allison, who lives less than one mile from the plant. "The breathing part of it, it is not a good situation."

Allison, 69, has lived down the road from the Emerald plant, which produces hazardous chemicals, for 12 years. Recently, he can smell it.

For the 40 workers locked out, a scanner and their makeshift office down the road the plant is the only connection to their livelihood.

"Our guys are sitting there listening, if they would just do this, this and this it would fix it, and they're still going through the same struggle fifteen minutes later," said union representative steward Brett Wiedman. "They just don't have enough experience to fix it."

When there is an accidental release of the toxic chemicals from the factory, Emerald must report it to the National Response Center. With the union workers there were two complaints in both 2008 and 2009. Since the lockout in March, there have been six.

The locked out workers say the plant was not perfect when they were in it. Last year, Emerald was fined $158,000 by the Environmental Protection Agency for a toxic chemical release that wasn't reported fast enough.

"We could minimize when something bad happened and were able to safely shut it down and stop it," said Wiedman.

Emerald Performance Materials says released a statement saying, "Of the items called in 2011, only one of these was determined to be a reportable release."

For Allison, that doesn't matter. A hazardous release and trained workers do.

"These are guys you've been with for 30 years for crying out loud. It is hard to let someone from out of town come in and run those processes and be safe about it," said Allison. "They don't know what they're doing to be safe."

The company and union are scheduled to sit down July 5 to try to reach an agreement.

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