Sat, Mar 09, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Koo's Group faces protest

INJUSTICE Activists are upset that the company is doing little to solve a lingering dispute between workers and plant management at one of its factories in the US

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Joseph J. Drexler, second from right, Todd Carlson, third from right and Ernie Anderson, fourth from right, representatives of the US-based Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union, demonstrate yesterday in front of the Taiwan Cement building where many companies in the Koo's Group have offices.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

US and Taiwanese labor and environmental activists yesterday protested in Taipei City against the Koo's Group, urging the corporation to solve disputes in the US surrounding one of its subsidiaries, Continental Carbon Company.

Accusations have been leveled at Continental Carbon for maintaining poor labor conditions and causing environmental pollution.

US unionists

Accompanied by dozens of Taiwanese activists, representatives of the US-based Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE) yesterday demonstrated in front of the Taiwan Cement Corp (台泥, TCC) building in Taipei.

High-ranking managers of TCC, one of Continental Carbon's parent companies, have promised to arrange a meeting next week with labor representatives of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions (TCTU, 全國產業總工會), which assists PACE's demonstration.

US labor union representatives demanded TCC -- along with Continental Carbon's other parent company, China Synthetic Rubber Corp (中國橡膠, CSRC) -- address worsening relations between the management and locked-out workers at a plant in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Established in the 1960s, Continental Carbon was purchased by CSRC and TCC in 1995. With its headquarters in Houston, Texas, the company owns and operates three plants in Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas.

Ernie Anderson of PACE said that 86 workers at the plant had been locked out since last May, after they refused to renew their contracts, which contained terms the workers deemed unacceptable.

The workers say they earn 40 percent less than workers at a sister plant in Texas and have longer working hours too.

According to an open letter to the Koo's Group, which was published in the United Evening News on March 7, PACE representatives believe that Continental Carbon was trying to break the union plant by plant.

Todd Carlson, who has worked at Continental Carbon's Oklahoma plant for 11 years and is one of 86 locked-out union workers, urged TCC and CSRC to force Continental Carbon to face up to controversial issues pertaining to labor safety and environmental quality.

Doing what it takes

"We will fight in any way possible," Carlson said, adding that the management of Continental Carbon would have to improve conditions before the workers would consider signing new contracts.

Joseph Drexler, director of special projects at PACE, said that the company was also under fire for carelessly discharging waste water and dumping hazardous waste in the community.

"Two weeks ago, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality filed a complaint against Continental Carbon after investigating environmental pollution activities reported by its workers," Drexler said, adding that the labor union, will sue Continental Carbon in the US by the end of April.

On the last day of their one-week visit to Taiwan, PACE representatives yesterday said they were disappointed with the Koo family for failing to face up to the issues at hand.

TCTU President Huang Ching-hsien (黃清賢), also a national policy advisor, said yesterday that representatives of the Koo's group had agreed to meet with him and other labor representatives next Monday to talk about the issue. Huang said Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had investigated related disputes.

Huang said that even though the workers were a long way from Taiwan, he would still fight for justice.

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