A labor dispute between Merrillville-based MonoSol, a maker of water-soluble, biodegradable films, and the Teamsters union appears to have been elevated from an argument of forced overtime and a challenging work environment to allegations of discrimination.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 135 has filed a charge against the company with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for what the union alleges is a “troubling pattern of racial and gender discrimination” at the company’s plant in La Porte.
MonoSol, a subsidiary of Japan-based chemical manufacturing company Kuraray, manufactures biodegradable films used in products such as dissolvable laundry detergent and dishwasher soap pods.
According to a news release from the Teamsters, supervisors use derogatory comments to describe Black workers. In the EEOC charge, the labor union also accuses MonoSol supervisors of disciplining Black workers more than harshly than non-Black workers.
The Teamsters say workers report complaints about the alleged racist behavior to management, but see no corrective action taken.
“I am angered and disappointed to hear how MonoSol is treating Teamster members,” said Anthony Rosa, director of the Teamsters Human Rights and Diversity Commission. “Everyone has the right to go to work, do their jobs, and not be harassed or discriminated against. We do not and will not tolerate our members being treated as less than because of their race or gender. I call on the EEOC to investigate these charges immediately.”
In a statement to our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana, MonoSol Vice President of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Matthew Vander Laan called the complaint “outlandish,” saying the union was trying to bring external pressure to the current contract negotiations.
“MonoSol is exceptionally diverse and we take tremendous pride in all of our employees and our equitable and inclusive culture,” he said. “We adhere to the strictest nondiscrimination policies. We take these topics very seriously and will cooperate with any agency review of the relevant facts, which we believe will prove his allegations to be unquestionably false.”
Local 135 has been in negotiations for a new contract since November 1. In late November, the workers rejected the company’s last offer. The workers have been locked out since then.
The Teamsters want to put a stop to compulsory overtime and 60-hour work weeks and also boost workers’ pay after they got no bonuses while working long hours through the coronavirus pandemic.
In a news release dated Dec. 8, the company said:
“Employees covered by our proposed and previous contracts enjoy above-market wages, health and retirement benefits. Average 2021 gross wages, not including benefits, for the majority of our hourly employees in La Porte was more than $75,000. Twenty-eight percent earned more than $90,000. Ten percent earned $100,000 or more. Employees also enjoy exceptional health insurance that is paid 90 percent by the company.”
In terms of OT, MonoSol says unplanned overtime is directly tied to excessive absenteeism. The company accuses the union of rejecting any proposals that might modify policies to incentivize good attendance and reduce unplanned overtime.
The union says it has also sent a letter to Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, which owns the Tide and Cascade brands, asking the corporation to investigate MonoSol’s labor practices throughout the U.S.