Esskay workers get 5-week reprieve But local plant is still set to close at end of year

October 15, 1992|By Ross Hetrick and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Ross Hetrick and William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writers

Workers at the Esskay plant in East Baltimore were told yesterday that they would get a five-week reprieve from planned layoffs as the company shores up parts of the plant that were found structurally unsound, according to the union that represents workers.

But the plant is still slated to be closed by the end of the year.

"It buys us a little more time," said Thomas M. Russow, president of Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. "The plant still has to be vacated by the end of the year. Safety is No. 1."

Meanwhile, city officials said they were continuing to work with Esskay's parent company, Smithfield Foods Inc., on a plan to replace the aging plant with an industrial park housing a new Esskay plant as the anchor. But even if that plan materi

alizes, it would take 12 to 18 months to implement, Mr. Russow said.

Company officials were not available for comment.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he was hopeful that ongoing negotiations among Smithfield, city and state economic development officials and the union would produce renewed commitment by Smithfield to the city.

"They said they would investigate tearing down the old plant and developing the site as an industrial park and building a new plant there," Mr. Schmoke said.

The company is now waiting for a package that might include development incentives from city, state and federal government. Mr. Schmoke said he hopes the package will be wrapped up in January.

Smithfield, based in Smithfield, Va., announced Sept. 30 that it would phase out production at the 72-year-old Esskay plant, at 3800 E. Baltimore St., because of structural problems discovered at the plant.

During that same week, the company shut down the plant's production of prepared hams and laid off 85 people. But 63 of those workers were recalled this week because of increased production of "bone-in" hams for the holiday season.

The next round of layoffs was scheduled for Oct. 23, when about 50 workers in the bacon department were to lose their jobs. Those layoffs were to be followed by the termination of 115 more workers between Nov. 6 and Nov. 20.

But after parts of the plant were temporarily repaired, the layoffs ofall 165 people were postponed until Nov. 30, Mr. Russow said. "That gets them past Thanksgiving," he said.

Mr. Russow credited company cooperation in achieving the delay.

The remaining 185 union workers would be laid off before Dec. 18, Mr. Russow said. The plant has a work force of about 500, he said.

Efforts to find another building for the meatpacking operation have so far failed, and Mr. Russow said he doubted that another building couldbe found because of the specialized needs of the operation.

Instead, Mr. Russow was hopeful that city, state and federal officials would be able to agree on a plan to demolish the Esskay plant and build an industrial park in its place with an Esskay operation as its anchor.

"That's our dream," he said.

In the meantime, the union is trying to find other jobs for its members. Some workers might be transferred to Smithfield's Mash ham plant in Landover, Mr. Russow said.

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