For Immediate Release Boston, MA, June 26, 2000
On June 22, 2000 the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) scored a 205 to 181 victory in a secret ballot election to represent 400 workers at the Imerys plant in Sylacauga, Alabama.
Steven Heim, Research Analyst at Walden Asset Management, said pressuring Imerys regarding unionization of its Alabama work force is consistent with Walden's social objectives as a socially responsive manager. "Our company is based on investing for clients who have social and economic concerns besides financial concerns," Heim said.
Walden Asset Management, owns on behalf of socially concerned clients, 4,000 shares in Imerys, the French-based minerals and materials multinational company. In June, 1999 Imerys withdrew recognition of the PACE union after it acquired English China Clays (ECC) and combined a much larger nonunion ECC plant in Sylacauga, Alabama 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 that led a year-long global campaign.
According to PACE Organizer Joe Wilson, who led the drive in Sylacauga, "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."
The global campaign against Imerys peaked on May 9th at the Imerys annual shareholders meeting in Paris. Walden Asset Management, PACE, and ICEM (International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Union) - to which PACE is associated, joined forces and dominated the meeting and exposed shareholders to Imerys' anti-union practices, in contrast to it's good labor relations in Europe. In response, Patrick Kron, CEO of Imerys, stated that "Imerys is committed to respecting the laws in all countries it operates and to conduct its industrial relations and business in an ethical manner." Two of France's largest newspapers (La Liberation & Le Figaro) covered the meeting and printed stories exposing the conflict.
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.
"American social investors have long been interested in labor issues involving workers' rights in the U.S.," said Steven Heim. "Imerys management thought they were untouchable," Joe Drexler, PACE Director of Special Projects.
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 PACE Region 5 Vice-President Don Langham.
This is reportedly the first time a social investment firm has pressed for workers' rights before a French company's annual meeting and the outcome has been a true success. "It is significant that Walden collaborated with international union federation to bring U.S. workers concerns to their French company's management," said Heim. "For several years U.S. trade unions have forged partnerships with other unions overseas, and now that partnership extends to social investors in the U.S."
As Geeta Aiyer, President and Senior Portfolio Manager of Walden
says, "We're a conduit for conveying shareholder concerns with
corporate management." As Walden has clearly demonstrated, a French
company operating in Alabama has proved to be no exception, "Social
investors may be concerned wherever a company operates," says
Contact: Vanessa Summers
Corporate Communications Consultant to:
Walden Asset Management