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Honeywell, America's Top Political Donor, Has Received $13 Billion in Federal Money

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The Honeywell Corporation, having given $3 million in PAC contributions, is the number one political donor in the country according to a report released yesterday by the Center for Responsive Politics. Honeywell had refused to get involved in political giving under former CEO Lawrence Bossidy, who left in 2002. However, under new Honeywell CEO David Cote, political giving by Honeywell has increased by almost 400% since Obama came to power in 2008.

Honeywell has used their increased fundraising clout to build a close relationship with the White House. Obama cites Honeywell CEO David Cote as one of his closest advisors in the business community. Cote ensured an early political victory for the President when he persuaded the US Chamber of Commerce to stay on the sidelines during the stimulus fight. Cote was rewarded for his support with a slot on the President's deficit commission.

Honeywell has also used its political clout to win $13 billion worth of federal contracts over the last ten years, leading to record profits. Honeywell is on the verge of expanding massively, in large part because they have received several contracts under the stimulus to make hybrid batteries. But David Cote is not satisfied with increasing profits by just receiving more federal contracts; he wants to increase his profit by driving down wages by busting the the unions that represent thousands of Honeywell workers. So far, President Obama has seemed willing to allow him to do that.

The effort to bust the unions at Honeywell's factories has started by locking out uranium workers at Honeywell's facility Metropolis, Illinois. Union workers have been locked out at the uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Illinois for four months now after contract negotiations broke down over Honeywell's demand that workers give up their retiree health care coverage and pension plans.

"For a company that is expanding and making record profits this is an outrageous thing for the company to demand," says union spokesman Stephen Lech. "The true intention of the company is to create a two-tier employee structure in an effort to break the union in an effort to bust unions throughout Honeywell".

So far, despite the lack of help from the President, the workers have put up a courageous fight. Many families have faced financial hardships over the course of the lockout, but as the challenges they face have mounted, their desire to fight to keep their union has only grown stronger.

Honeywell has put additional pressure on the locked out workers by bringing in scab replacement workers, the company is finding that safely replacing uranium workers is not easy. At first, Nuclear Regulatory officials told local workers in a town hall meeting held last spring that it would be very difficult -- nearly impossible in fact -- to replace the skilled workers at a uranium facility.

This summer's lock-out was a first at the Honeywell plant, which has been unionized for 60-plus years. In past union negotiations, the company has feared that nuclear regulators would balk at allowing it to operate such a sensitive site with replacement workers. Given that the Metropolis plant is the only conversion facility of its kind in the United States, familiarity with the plant, and not just generic experience in the field, is key to ensuring the plant's safety. This time around, as Honeywell tried to foist tough new terms on its employees by citing the financial crisis, the company worked with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for more than a year to draw up acceptable contingency plans for hiring temporary labor -- and was ultimately granted permission to do so.

Honeywell, however, was able to grease the wheels with its political connections to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow scabs to operate the facility. Honeywell even hired a politically connected company to provide the scab replacement workers: the Shaw Group. The Shaw Group's CEO, Jeffrey Merrifield, is a former Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner. In 2009, the commission's inspector general found that Merrifield had violated ethics laws by voting on regulatory matters that financially benefited the Shaw Group while negotiating his salary to be a Senior VP of the company.

Using their combined political connections, Honeywell has been allowed to continue operating the plant. And, after temporary workers took over in early September, it wasn't long before something went wrong. The day after the NRC allowed Honeywell to resume production, there was a hydrogen explosion in the scrubbing portion of the plant.

Though Honeywell played down the incident, the blast could be heard a mile away and police rushed to the scene to investigate. No one was injured in the explosion, but it highlighted safety concerns about allowing workers with little experience in the plant's operations to take over for union laborers who knew their way around the facility. Workers have also presented photographs of what they claim to be a release of a toxic HF gas in the rail yard, but regulatory and company officials deny the claims, saying that the smoke clouds are only water vapor clouds.

Not all elected officials have been silent on the matter. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin spoke up on the dangerous situation at the Metropolis factory, saying, "The residents of Massac County are being put at risk because nuclear chemicals are now being handled by workers unfamiliar with that Honeywell plant." President Obama, though, has refused to release a statement condemning his close adviser Cote for actions that are threatening both workers and a local community. Multiple requests for comment from the White House over a period of weeks were refused by White House press officials.

Instead of denouncing Honeywell CEO David Cote, Obama is rewarding Cote by placing him on the President's Deficit Commission. Cote, a major defense contractor, has put pressure on the Commission to squash any discussion of cuts to defense contractors. He's also pushed back against calls by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to cut waste in the military by suggesting instead that the military cut the pay of its troops overseas (many of whom are already relying on food stamps) and make them pay for their own health care.

Cote has also supported cutting Social Security benefits, which would drastically hurt the economy. The families of the 52 million Social Security beneficiaries, whose benefits would be cut, would be forced to take money out of the economy and financially provide for their loved ones.

Obama's refusal, however, to denounce Honeywell CEO David Cote or kick him off the deficit commission, allows Cote increase his corporate profits by not just his own workers, but all of America's workers by threatening to cut Social Security. If only President Obama had the courage of the workers walking the picket line in Metropolis, Illinois, workers might have been able to achieve "change we can believe in." Instead, President Obama is short-changing the workers in exchange for the big bucks of companies like Honeywell.

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