Union seeks to organize Eastman workers

Hank Hayes • Apr 11, 2019 at 7:00 PM

KINGSPORT — A union has begun trying to organize Eastman workers.

International Chemical Workers Union Council organizer Lance Heasley said Eastman workers reached out to his organization.

“The people just want a voice,” Heasley said. “They’re tired of being taken from. Eastman is a large company and they are doing well. (Eastman Board Chair and CEO Mark) Costa, his salary goes up tremendously each year. He makes his money based on what these people are doing. They are giving up part of their life every day, breathing the chemicals, working in, you know, long hours, working weekends, nights, time away from their families. They just want a voice. They want a say in their future. … We’re talking operations, maintenance and hourly workers.”

Eastman spokeswoman Candy Eslinger, in an emailed response, said: “Like most global companies our size we, on occasion, have individuals who may reach out to seek information from a union or we have union organizers come in from out of town to host meetings with our team members to gauge their interest. While we certainly understand employees have the right to self-organize, they also have the right to refrain from any or all such activities. We believe that direct communications with our team members is the best way to discuss and resolve issues — without an outside party. We don’t believe a union is in the best interest of our Kingsport team members.”

When asked about a timeline, Heasley said: “Right now, we are having small committee meetings. Things will progress. … We’re just slowly building support, getting the word out to people, where they can go look so they can get information to educate themselves. It’s a process. We are in the very, very early stages. This is the infancy. We’re just doing what we can to help these people. The only people in the United States who help working people are unions to let workers have a voice.”

Heasley said there is a goal to have a union election at some point.

“The goal is to have a contract in the end that spells out their conditions of employment,” he noted. “Everything in their personal life has contracts. They have mortgages, they have lease agreements, they have insurance, they have cell phone contracts … except for how they are going to have the income to pay for it.”

Eastman is a Kingsport-based specialty products maker.