Electrician's Loyalty To Lehigh Burns Out

Angry Over Labor Fight In 1980s

October 20, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Every morning, Peter W. Neumann says, "Lord, give me patience."

For 27 years, he has worked at the Lehigh Portland Cement Co., and thework and working conditions haven't gotten any easier.

He doesn't complain about hard work -- as a farmer, he got used to that. But he feels the company doesn't care about its employees.

The problems between the company and the union that started in 1983 have dimmed Neumann's respect for his employer.

"(Before then), ifsomeone asked you where you worked, and you said, 'Lehigh,' you wereproud," he said, noting that now he doesn't tell anyone where he works.

Neumann lives with his wife, Ursula, on Middleburg Road in a home with a view of the Catoctin Mountains. He is a first-shift electrician and maintenance man. Ursula Neumann works at the International Gift Shop at the New Windsor Service Center.

Neumann is 55 and still speaks with the thick accent of his native Germany.

He came to the United States when he was 21 to learn more about agriculture. He lived in Virginia for a year, then moved to Linwood, where his brother had lived as an exchange student a number of years earlier. After atwo-year stint in the Army, he moved back to Carroll County.

In 1963, he took a job at Lehigh because it offered the best salary and benefits around, he said.

"It was hard work, but you were reimbursed for it," said Neumann, who served one term on the Union Bridge TownCouncil in the 1970s.

As an electrician, he said he often works with currents of up to 4,000 volts, which could kill a person if misdirected. In January and February, he worked 25 consecutive days and has worked 24 hours straight when needed.

The company lost Neumann'strust about seven years ago when it engaged in unfair labor practices, he said. But he tries not to let his bitterness affect his work.

"I love my work; I enjoy my work," he said.

But he admits he's just putting in his time.

"It's not the pride you used to have of working for a good company," Neumann said. "You go there and you do your job."

He and many other hourly employees don't attend the annual company picnic because of the animosity that has persisted, he said.

Neumann said he wishes management would listen to employees about "human problems."

"The interest in people -- that's missing. It's just the human part -- go to the people."

But both sides have tocooperate, he added. Hourly employees also must be willing to listen, he said.

Neumann said he doesn't oppose burning wastes in the cement kilns, as the company is seeking to do, if it's done right and if the company provides for regular medical checkups for employees andtakes responsibility for medical problems employees may develop years from now.

He said he's glad to have a citizens group as a watchdog.

"It's a good thing. You should have two sides."

Neumann said he doesn't want to appear too negative about Lehigh.

Last summer, the company chose his son, Karl, for a summer internship at a Lehigh plant in Germany. Karl, who will be a senior at the University of Maryland this fall, enjoyed his time with the company and was treated well, Neumann said.

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