Parks strikers call pay cuts too deep Chairman alludes to rivals' closings

May 11, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

More than 100 workers continued their strike yesterday against Parks Sausage Co., Baltimore's last remaining meatpacking operation, protesting contract concessions that the company said were necessary for survival.

"We have negotiated in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the fate of Esskay, Mash's Ham, Goetze, Hygrade, Corkran Hill and the half-dozen other meat processing plants we once had in Baltimore," Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., Parks' chairman and chief executive officer, said at a news conference yesterday.

But while union officials and members said they were willing to forgo wage increases, they said wage cuts proposed by Parks' management were too much.

"It's just too high a price to pay," said Gary T. Gatewood, business agent for Local 27 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

About 100 union members who work at Parks' only plant, at 3330 Park Circle Drive, went on strike at 10 p.m. Sunday after six months of working without a contract. Parks employs 250 workers, including 50 management employees and 100 salespeople in four offices.

Parks has been prominent in Maryland's business community through the years, and as of the middle of 1992 was the state's fifth-largest black-owned business. It took on added importance in 1989 when itmoved into the Park Circle Enterprise Zone after relocating from a site near what is now Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Enterprise zones, in which companies enjoy tax advantages, have been promoted as a solution to urban economic decline.

Mr. Gatewood said his local's members were willing to have theirwages and benefits frozen for the next 18 months. But the company had pushed for concessions that could reduce workers' paychecks by $60 to $70 a week. "They just can't afford to do that," he said.

The proposed concessions included a pay cut of 75 cents an hour, a $20-a-week deduction for health-care costs, higher co-payments for medical expenses and an increased deductible the company's drug plan to $5 a prescription, from 50 cents. Mr. Gatewood said his workers earn between $7 and $9 an hour at the plant. Mr. Haysbert said later, however, that union workers earn an average of $10 an hour.

The decision to call the strike was made after Parks made its "final offer" last week, Mr. Gatewood said. "We are not going to work without a contract," he said.

However, Mr. Haysbert said that even though the company called the proposal its final offer, it was still willing to move on the matter. "They may see another way of doing it," he said.

Mr. Gatewood conceded that Parks was struggling financially, but laid most of the blame to the lack of promoting its products and other management mistakes. "It's poor management," he said.

"Absolutely," Mr. Haysbert said when asked about poor lTC management. "We made 43 years of wage increases. That was mismanagement."

In an unusual act during a labor dispute, the 73-year-old Mr. Haysbert came out of the company's building wearing a yellow plastic Parks hard hat yesterday about 11:30 a.m. to help usher a tractor-trailer truck across the picket line. "I wanted to give the trucker some backbone," he said to reporters.

He then stayed and talked to reporters for an hour while about 20 pickets behind him chanted: "No more Parks sausages, Mom," and other slogans.

Calling the strike a "costly blunder," Mr. Haysbert said the union could have continued to negotiate while the workers received their normal pay and benefits. "We did not set the deadline. We were still negotiating," he said.

Mr. Haysbert said the company has lost $4.5 million in the past two years as its sales have dropped to $20 million, from $28 million in 1990. The biggest hits have been the loss of $8 million in contracts to Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza that were won by lower-price competitors.

"If we don't get some relief, they won't have any jobs," Mr. Haysbert said while pickets walked behind him.

The pay and benefit cuts would be "temporary" since the four-yearcontract can be reopened after two years, he said. The loss in wages and benefits would be partially offset by a $400 bonus that would be awarded every three months if undisclosed quality, production and safety goals were met.

Mr. Haysbert said the company's remaining 150 workers have taken pay and benefit cuts, including a pay cut for himself to $35,000, from $148,000, over the past two years. "There are people standing in line right now making more money than me," Mr. Haysbert said.

While the company said the cuts were necessary for survival, some workers said they could not meet their expenses on the proposed wages and benefits.

"I wouldn't have a choice but to look for another job," said Juanita J. Montgomery, 45, who has worked for Parks for five years. Taking home about $267 a week, the single mother said, she was barely making ends meet, considering her $500 monthly mortgage payment, car and insurance expenses, the cost of medicine for an ulcer and the expense of helping her 22-year-old son go throughelectronics school.

"It would affect my life a great deal," she said.

During the strike, the company said, management personnel would be able to keep plant production at 35 percent of its capacity.

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