Workers invoke eminent domain to keep plant open

TAUNTON, Mass. (PAI) – “Eminent domain,” the governmental power to take private property, with appropriate compensation, for public use, has been used over the years for economic development, urban renewal and other reasons. 

Now, for the first time ever, it may be used at the behest of a union, United Electrical Workers Local 204, to keep a factory running and workers on their jobs. 

That scene has unfolded in Taunton, Mass., where a profitable foreign-owned company, Esterline, wants to shut its Haskon Aerospace plant. There, 100 workers make specialized silicone rubber seals and gaskets for military and civilian airplanes. 

Esterline, which earned $120 million last year, wants to close the profitable plant, auction off its machines and move its operations to non-union factories in California and Mexico. The company’s scheme mobilized the local, which represents the employees at the Haskon plant. Speaking of Esterline, “They’d rather scrap the equipment than allow us to stay in business,” Local 204 President Scott Marques told one reporter. 

The conglomerate first offered the right of first refusal on buying the plant to the workers, but then – when they and the union accepted – it reneged on the deal.  That’s because Local 204 pointed out that Massachusetts law requires any employer closing up shop to pay for three months’ medical care for each worker. 

Esterline then said it would cut the agreed-upon severance package for each worker by $143,000. The union termed that “regressive bargaining” and filed labor law breaking charges with the National Labor Relations Board. 

The charges didn’t stop Esterline from going ahead, so the workers enlisted Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank and Democratic Sen. John Kerry. Their letters and campaign against the closure fell on deaf ears at Esterline headquarters. 

So now UE, an independent union whose Chicago local gained national attention for a sit-in at a “green windows” plant whose owner was forced to close when a big bank that got bailout money pulled the plug, is taking another drastic step. It’s asking Taunton to use “eminent domain” powers to seize the plant and its equipment, before Esterline spirits all the jobs away.  Taunton’s attorney is analyzing if the town can use eminent domain to seize the plant and the equipment, thus saving the machines and the jobs.  Taunton’s council asked Esterline to delay its final plans until the attorney reports his findings. There’s been no response from the firm.

Photo: ue news update



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.