Ispat proposal angers laid-off workers

February 20, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

With last-ditch efforts under way yesterday that are crucial to reopening a closed rod mill at Sparrows Point in Baltimore County, laid-off workers from the operation got a look at the contract their union leaders rejected.

They didn't like what they saw.

"I think it stinks," said Dennis J. McCormick, 39, a former rod mill worker who has been out of work since April. He particularly objected to the wage proposal, which dips down to $8.50 an hour for some workers.

"I feel like that type of money is little boys' money," he said. "It's a wage that mature people can't exist on."

Mr. McCormick and about 100 other former rod mill workers gathered at the offices of Local 2609 of the United Steelworkers of America to hear about a contract proposal from Ispat Mexicana S.A. de C.V.

The proposal has been rejected by union officials.

"We voted against it, I voted against it, because we think we can not live with it," said Donald E. Kellner, president of the local that represents the rod mill workers. "We can't have a foreign organization come into this country and try to . . . browbeat you."

Ispat Mexicana, part of the Ispat Group of Calcutta, India, signed a letter of intent in November to buy Bethlehem's closed bar, rod and wire division, which had 2,000 workers in operations at Sparrows Point, Johnstown, Pa., and Lackawanna, N.Y. The Sparrows Point rod mill, which had 340 workers, has been closed since Aug. 14. The bulk of the division's workers were at Johnstown.

Contract negotiations between the Steelworkers and Ispat broke down Thursday after Ispat refused to consider a counterproposal by the union. Trying to revive the talks, Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey brought both sides to Harrisburg later that day and spent more than five hours meeting with both sides. After an additional 7 1/2 -hour meeting yesterday, the governor's office said the talks would resume tomorrow.

Steelworkers spokesman Dick Fontana said Ispat's average costs for labor and benefits during the first year would be $15.55 an hour, about 40.8 percent below the average labor costs of $26.25 an hour paid by other bar, rod and wire producers.

Workers made it clear yesterday they were willing to take their chances with unemployment rather than accept Ispat's terms.

"Some people say something is better than nothing, but I don't see it that way," said William L. Sharps, 50, a 28-year veteran of the rod mill. He said the proposed wages are at levels paid steelworkers 20 years ago.

Geraldine Miller-Mack, 43, agreed that it would be very difficult to go back doing the same job at a 40 percent pay cut.

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