Negotiators were scheduled to meet today amid some signs that a settlement may be nearing in the three-week-old strike of 180 employees at Crown Cork & Seal Co.
The strike shut down production at Crown's factory on South Newkirk street.
Several months of talks between Crown and representatives of Local 1672 of the International Association of Machinists failed to result in an agreement prior to expiration of the previous pact. The three-year contract expired Oct. 7.
Workers said the major issues in the dispute are contract changes sought by the company that would allow some work at the plant to be shifted to outside manufacturers.
The union has made an offer to the company that includes early retirement and severence pay for the affected workers, said John D. Jefferies, directing business representative for District Lodge 12 of the machinists' union, which includes Local 1672.
The company's plans could see employment reduced to 75, he said.
"We don't have a settlement yet . . . but we're heading that way," Jefferies said. "I'm more hopeful than I was a week ago."
He is scheduling a membership meeting for Saturday during which members may be updated on the progress of the talks or asked to vote on a tentative settlement if one is reached.
Gary Burgess, the company's chief bargainer, declined to comment on the negotiations other than to say, "We're continuing to have discussions."
Leo Gant, a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said the talks are progressing well.
"It was an extremely difficult situation and I can only commend the union and management in working together," Gant said.
On the picket line, striker Richard Higgs said, "This isn't about money. It breaks down to we either have a job or we don't."
Employees received an average of $12 an hour at the plant under the terms of the expired contract. That pact was reached after a five-day walkout of the plant's workers, who then numbered 300. Up to 1,000 people worked at the plant during its peak years.
Former Continental Can Co. plants in Baltimore, acquired by Crown last year, are not directly affected by the dispute.