'Surprise' strike at CSX slows rail freight in Cumberland

February 05, 1993|By Kim Clark and Peter Jensen | Kim Clark and Peter Jensen,Staff Writers

Members of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association struck the CSX Transportation Inc. facility in Cumberland and five towns in the Southeast yesterday, delaying freight throughout the region.

The strike had no impact on the Maryland Commuter Rail (MARC) system. CSX operates two of the three MARC lines: the Camden Line between Baltimore's Camden Station and Union Station in Washington, and the Brunswick Line from Union Station to Martinsburg, W.Va.

Union officials did not return calls asking for comment yesterday. But CSX spokesman Jay Westbrook said the union, which represents workers who repair railroad cars, was apparently striking over changes in work rules negotiated after last summer's strike and lockout.

Mr. Westbrook said the strike was "a total surprise" and had caused "considerable delays" for freight traffic between Birmingham, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn., both of which were also struck.

Freight delays in Maryland were less severe because freight could be routed around the problem terminal, he said.

State officials said they were hiring buses to serve rail commuters in case the strike spreads this morning.

Mr. Westbrook said CSX had flown its lawyers from the company's Jacksonville, Fla., headquarters to Baltimore yesterday to ask a federal judge here for a temporary restraining order forcing the strikers back to work.

In addition, he said, the company was flying management teams each of the struck facilities to get locomotives moving again.

Mr. Westbrook said the company has not been formally notified by the union of the reason for the strike. But he said he believed it had to do with contract changes that allow workers to perform "incidental" tasks normally performed by members of other trades.

He said the company was puzzled because only about half of the 400 sheet-metal workers who work for CSX were picketing, while the rest worked a regular day at other locations.

MARC officials said they didn't think MTA bus service from major train stations would be needed.

"We're being told that chances are, things will be OK," said Ronald J. Hartman, MTA general manager.

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