UNION BRIDGE — Lehigh Portland Cement Co. workers here and at three other sites mayvote this spring on which union they want to represent them.
Fiveyears ago, workers became dissatisfied with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. They now want to join the United Paperworkers International union, said James E. Harris, the union representative at Union Bridge.
Richard A. Northrip, president of the Independent Workers of North America, which merged last month with the Paperworkers, said Lehighworkers deserve a chance to vote.
"Let the people make a choice,"he said.
The contract between Lehigh and the Boilermakers expiresApril 30 and covers 450 to 500 people at the four plants, said Northrip, who works in Westmont, Ill.
The Union Bridge plant employs about 200 people; 160 are union members.
Harris said 130 members signed cards saying they want a chance to vote for the Paperworkers as their union. Production, maintenance, clerical and laboratory workers belong to the union, he said.
Northrip said Paperworkers officialsare not asking to expand the union if the workers vote to support it.
Union Bridge Plant Manager David H. Roush said the company will bargain with whatever union the workers vote to accept.
Harris is not an official union representative, but Roush said he talks to him about union matters.
Harris said they talk "unofficially."
Lehigh workers at the four plants have tried two other times since 1987 to get permission to vote on a new union, but a pending unfair labor practice suit filed against Lehigh six years ago had to be resolved first, Northrip said.
The National Labor Relations Board concluded in 1987 that Lehigh violated labor law by putting contract proposals into effect without first bargaining to an impasse with the union.
The NLRB negotiated a $5 million settlement for employees, but workers still are waiting to receive their money, Harris said.
The settlement covers back pay for Boilermakers members and is to be divided among 1,200 employees at Lehigh's nine plants.
Peter W. Hirsch, regional director for the NLRB in Philadelphia, said a decision has not been made about how much money each employee will receive.
Lehigh paid the $5 million to the NLRB about a year ago, and the money has been earning interest in the U.S. Treasury, he said. The interest alsowill be divided among employees.
Workers could receive their money by mid-May at the earliest, Hirsch said.
Last month, the Paperworkers filed a petition with the NLRB in Baltimore to ask for a vote on a new union.
Louis D'Amico, regional NLRB director in Baltimore,said the board is "investigating" the petition and that no decision on an election has been made.
Northrip said 64 to 69 locals aroundthe country want to sever their ties with the Boilermakers. The Boilermakers have not served workers at the Union Bridge plant for the last five years, he said.
Problems began when the United Cement, Lime and Gypsum Workers, which represented Lehigh workers, merged with the Boilermakers in 1984. The Boilermakers then discharged many officers from the other union, angering many former United Cement, Lime andGypsum workers, Northrip said.