Locked-out workers at the A.E. Staley plant in Decatur, Ill. won an important victory Aug. 22 when the state of Illinois rescinded tax breaks to the company worth millions of dollars.
"If our figures are right, Staley is going to have to pay at least $3 million dollars in back taxes and several million more in interest and penalties," Art Dhermy, coordinator of corporate investigation of Paperworkers Local 7837, told the World.
The state acted exactly a week after Local 7837 organized a press conference in front of Staley headquarters demanding action. "We said they were feeding at the public trough and gobbling up goodies as fast as they could," Dhermy said, "and to drive our point home, we brought a couple of pigs with us."
Staley is one of three multinational corporations with plants in Decatur's "enterprise zone" where they receive property tax abatements and state income tax credits for new construction and machinery renovation. According to Dhermy, these giveaways cost Decatur nearly $4 million annually in lost property tax revenue.
Staley was given these tax breaks, including a 100 percent tax exemption on its $1 million-a-month utility bill granted in 1992, and an exemption from paying sales tax on new equipment, granted in 1994, in return for a promise to employ 1,000 workers. Both deals run for five years and will save the company more than $5.5 million.
"They don't come even close to employing 1,000 people," Dhermy said angrily. "The way they do it is they include those of us who are locked-out as employees. And they talk about voting the dead!"
Local 7837 has demanded that the Illinois Senate launch an investigation into the activities of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, the agency that hands out these exemptions. In a statement at a public meeting in the state capitol, Dhermy said that in a situation where ruthless cuts were being made in funding schools, family welfare and health programs, "we need to make sure the corporations of this state are paying their fair share." He said the local would insist on indictments should such an investigation uncover fraud.
In addition to Staley, Caterpillar and Bridgestone/Firestone (B/F) also have facilities within the enterprise zone. All three have forced bitter strikes and lockouts since 1993. About 2,000 of the 13,000 members of the United Auto Workers on strike against Cat since June 1994 live in the Decatur area.
Earlier this year, members of the Rubber Workers Union who worked at the B/F plant in Decatur returned to work after a bitter nine-month battle. In the course of these struggles, central Illinois has rightly earned the title of the Illinois Class War Zone.
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