The reporting on this story took more than two years. I first met my
initial source in 2010. We struck up a conversation about his work. The source told me that the chemical plant where he worked had been sold to a private equity firm, Apollo Global Management, and that since the takeover, things had been tense. The new owners had cut wages in the middle of a three-year union contract, and workers were pretty upset. They had filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, and they were waiting to see how things shook out.
That conversation led to many, many more, with that source and many other workers at the plant. Those conversations led to Freedom of Information Act requests to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the National Labor Relations Board, yielding more than 1,000 pages of documents. With those interviews, and the documents, we were able to tell a story about what happens when private equity comes to town – not a movie version, but the real, lived experience of the workers at this factory.
The stereotype of a private equity deal is that the investors strip the plant down for parts and ship the jobs overseas. That didn’t happen here. The workers at Momentive Performance Materials still have coveted, well-paying union jobs in manufacturing. But the jobs pay far less than they did years ago. Although the NLRB ruled in their favor, the proposed settlement got lumped in with a new contract vote. The chemical workers, the ones who had taken the pay cut, voted against the deal. But other locals in the bargaining unit voted for it, and the new, lower pay was a done deal. Several years on, there have been numerous safety problems, according to both workers and the documents from OSHA. The stories provide a snapshot of the new American stability.