Officials give Esskay plan to keep plant in Baltimore

December 03, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

City and state officials gave Esskay Inc. a plan yesterday intended to keep the meat packing operation in Baltimore, and officials said a decision on the operation's fate could be made in three to four weeks.

"We feel we are getting closer and closer to staying in Baltimore," said Esskay President Robin W. Bissell, standing outside the City Hall offices of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke after receiving a copy of the plan. "We are very interested in staying."

His optimism was shared by Thomas M. Russow, president of Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents workers at the plant. "We're looking for the light at the end of the tunnel," he told reporters.

Mr. Russow said the plan would be given today in Washington to Joseph W. Luter III, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods Inc., the parent of Esskay. "We have been assured it will be given the upmost attention," Mr. Russow said.

The company, which is based in Smithfield, Va., will reply to the plan in about a week, Mr. Bissell said. However, a decision on the future of the operation will not be made for another three to four weeks at the earliest, he said.

Mr. Bissell and Mr. Russow declined to discuss details of the plan because it has not been reviewed by Smithfield officials. However, Mr. Bissell said the plan involves the demolition of the plant and the building of a new facility. A new plant would require one-and-a-half to two years to complete, he said.

Even though the brief press conference was held outside his office, Mr. Schmoke was not present and his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said he had no comment.

Smithfield Foods announced at the end of September that it planned to close the plant at 3800 E. Baltimore St. by the end of the year because of safety concerns raised by structural problems at the plant, which dates to the 1920s.

Since then, the city and state officials have been working with the company and the union to find ways to keep Esskay in Baltimore.

Last week, union and state officials said they were working on a plan that involved two alternatives. One involved razing the existing plant and building a new facility. The other called for building in another part of the 13-acre Esskay property that would not require demolition.

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