Tester introduces corporate tax bill in response to Three Forks plant lockout

by Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Abby Lynes

In response to the lockout of union workers at a Three Forks talc plant, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has introduced a bill that would eliminate tax breaks and raise tax rates for corporations during labor lockouts.

Called the Prohibiting Incentives for Corporations that Kickout Employees Tax Act, or PICKET Act, the bill would make corporations unable to receive tax breaks, deductions and credits during lockouts, according to a news release sent out by Tester’s press team.

It would also raise the income tax rate for the entire taxable year from 21 percent, to 35 percent, the corporate tax rate prior to the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in 2017.

It would prevent corporations from deducting wages and benefits paid to temporary workers during the lockout and keep the companies from receiving certain tax credits for hiring replacement workers.

“Imerys is a multinational, billion-dollar corporation,” Tester said in the news release.

“This bill would hold them accountable for unnecessarily upending the lives of workers and their families.”

As expected, union representatives supported the bill and said it was an appropriate response to the Imerys lockout.

“There’s no way, in my mind, that that company deserves a tax break,” Montana AFL-CIO executive secretary Al Ekblad said.

About 35 workers have been locked out of Imerys since Aug. 3, when the union rejected the company’s third offer for a new contract. Workers say Imerys’s offer took away new retiree health insurance, froze employee pension plans, removed seniority from consideration when filling new positions and changed how overtime was paid. Locked-out union employees and their families ran out of health insurance at the end of August.

Union and talc plant representatives have met to negotiate once since the lockout started, from Sept. 11 to 12, but were unable to reach an agreement.

Ryan Toohey, a spokesperson for Imerys, said it has since indicated flexibility in its negotiating position to the union, and the union hasn’t responded to the company. He declined to specify which parts of the contract the company was willing to negotiate.

Toohey said Imerys is against Tester’s bill, believing that it won’t solve the problem at hand.

“Regardless of the politics of the day, the best way to resolve contractual disputes is with both parties present at the negotiating table and acting in good faith,” he said in a statement. 

Union protests have attracted leaders from across the state, including Gov. Steve Bullock and Democratic U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams. Tester and Andy Shirtliff, a Democrat running for the Montana Public Service Commission, visited the picket line for a rally on Labor Day.

Sen. Steve Daines, Rep. Greg Gianforte and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox have also urged Imerys to continue discussions with union workers.

Daines said he stands with employees and hopes to see employees get back to work, but he won’t support the bill.

“With that said, the senator wants to save jobs not kill them. Yanking tax relief would only cause more people to lose their jobs,” Daines’ spokeswoman Katie Schoettler wrote in an email.