Teamsters union workers at the G. Heileman Brewing Co. plant in Halethorpe yesterday crossed picket lines set up by Machinists union strikers at the brewery after the company threatened to fire absentees or cancel their health insurance.
The rare split in union solidarity occurred when the international Teamsters union decided not to honor the strike because it said the Machinists were asking for higher wage increases than some 300 Teamsters members got in July after a monthlong strike.
"We feel damn terrible about it, because the unions are supposed to be in solidarity," said John D. Jefferies, chief negotiator for the striking Machinists.
"We didn't interfere with their negotiations, we supported them," he said. "This is going to strain relations with other unions, because nobody is going to trust the Teamsters."
As they crossed the picket lines yesterday morning, Teamsters members faced the verbal abuse they had dispensed to strikebreakers two months earlier.
"It hurt to do it. No one wants to be called a scab," said one Teamsters member who asked that his name not be used. "If we didn't go back, the company was going to fire us."
"There's a lot of hard feelings. In their hearts they didn't want to go back," said James Glass, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 1010. "They had their families to consider with those letters from the company."
The brewery sent letters over the weekend to employees, saying that they could be suspended or fired if they did not report to work Tuesday. Those who did not report would have their health insurance canceled, the letter stated.
The 25 Machinists went on strike last Thursday after four weeks without a new contract. The Teamsters workers did not cross the picket lines on Thursday and Friday, and production was halted for the long holiday weekend.
The Machinists reportedly asked for hourly raises of 50 cents the first year and 10-cent raises the next two years. The Teamsters got 30 cents an hour the first year and 20 cents in each of the next two years.
Federal mediator Donald Brodsky called a meeting of brewery and Machinists negotiators last night, the first meeting since the strike began. "I'm not too optimistic at this point," he said. "But it's just time to see if we can find a solution, with the other union not honoring their [Machinists'] pickets."
The Machinists honored Teamsters picket lines during the four-week strike in July.
The Teamsters regional Joint Council had said its members would support a Machinists strike on Aug. 20. But council President George W. Woods wrote the Machinists last Friday to say that the international union had overruled the decision because the Machinists were demanding more money. Mr. Woods said yesterday that he could not comment on the international body's decision but that it could be subject to change.
The Teamsters' contract with Heileman protects members who honor a sanctioned strike by other unions.
"The issue for us is, we don't want another union negotiating our contract. The company is saying we have to take what Local 1010 [Teamsters] got," Mr. Jefferies said. "We wanted to arrange our own [compensation] package differently."
Teamsters members at Heileman were angry at their international union in July, when the union told them to end a four-week strike and approve a new contract or risk losing their $200-a-week strike benefits.
Teamsters Local 1010 has been on strike for three weeks against the Bond Distributing Co. beer wholesaler, with about 90 employees collecting strike benefits.
One Teamsters official suggested that the higher level of strike benefits, recently raised from $45 a week, was causing the international to be more cautious in approving strikes and sympathy strikes by members.