12-hour day sparks strike at Poly-Seal

March 03, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

About 380 workers at Poly-Seal Corp., a Baltimore-based maker of plastic caps and container seals, went on strike yesterday in a dispute over a proposed 12-hour workday and changes in their health insurance policy.

Members of Local 6967 of the United Steelworkers of America picketed two of the company's three plants, bringing operations to a standstill.

About a dozen pickets, fighting the cold by huddling around barrels of burning wood, walked the lines at the company's plants at 8303 Pulaski Highway in Baltimore County and at Holabird Industrial Park in Southeast Baltimore.

A third Poly-Seal plant, on Shannon Drive in Baltimore, where workers are represented by a different union, is not affected by the strike, said Robert N. Gillman, president and chief executive of Poly-Seal.

The company has about 600 workers at the two affected plants, including nonunion employees, and about 175 at the Shannon Drive operation, Mr. Gillman said.

Formerly called Standard Cap & Molding Co., the company was bought by New York and Connecticut investors in 1969, when it was in bankruptcy, Mr. Gillman said. Since then, it has been built into one of the nation's largest makers of plastic caps and seals, with sales of $60 mil lion to $70 million a year, he said.

"It remains prosperous," Mr. Gillman said. But he added that the rate of growth in profits has been declining in recent years. The company plans to invest $7.5 million in capital improvements this year, he said.

A main issue leading to the strike is a company proposal to create 12-hour shifts. Under the plan, workers would alternate working three days one week and four hours the next.

Mr. Gillman said the system was needed to compete with companies that have adopted similar programs. Without the proposed schedule, Poly-Seal's operation "just becomes economically unfeasible," he said.

"It was over that issue that an impasse developed," Mr. Gillman said. "That is where the union drew a line in the sand and we also drew a line in the sand."

Negotiations for a new three-year contract came to a stop Tuesday, Mr. Gillman said. The old contract expired Feb. 20 and was extended through Tuesday. Mr. Gillman said no further sessions are scheduled.

Virginia D. Underwood, treasurer of Local 6967, said the 12-hour workday would be a hardship, particularly for single parents. "It will disrupt their lives completely," she said.

Besides being adamant about keeping its eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week work schedule, the union also opposes efforts by the company to increase employees' health insurance costs and begin using a health maintenance organization.

Pickets protested the 12-hour workday, primarily because it would eliminate their overtime pay. But some said they would be willing to switch to the new schedule if their health insurance remained the same.

"They're knocking down the benefits really bad," said Charles Shumaker, a forklift operator with four years at the company. "We had the best benefits; now they want us to go to an HMO."

Though picketing was was wet and cold, strikers did have wooden pallets -- provided by the company they are striking -- to burn to keep them warm.

"These are good people, and we don't want to hurt them," Mr. Gillman said.

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