Poly-Seal to begin replacing strikers

April 14, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

Striking workers rejected Poly-Seal Corp.'s latest contract offer yesterday, and the maker of plastic caps and container seals said it will begin hiring permanent replacements.

"We have to remain viable, we have to stay in business," said Robert N. Gillman, president and chief executive of Poly-Seal, one of the country's largest plastic cap companies. "I don't have a chain around their legs, and they don't have a noose around my neck."

The company's move came just hours after members of Local 6967 of the United Steelworkers of America voted 200 to 90 to reject the company's final offer. Union officials said the proposal was voted down because higher health care costs would have eaten away a proposed pay raise of about 4 percent annually for three years.

About 380 workers went on strike March 2 at two local plants, one on Pulaski Highway and one at Holabird Industrial Park, owned by the Baltimore-based manufacturer. A third plant on Shannon Drive in Baltimore, where workers are represented by a different union, is not affected.

Poly-Seal already has 500 applications in hand to replace the 380 striking workers, Mr. Gillman said. "The big problem is how long it will take to train them," he said, estimating it will take several months.

Mr. Gillman said the company mailed letters to striking workers after yesterday's vote informing them that permanent workers were being hired, but also offering them their jobs. "They can come back to work if they want," he said.

Mr. Gillman also did not shut the door on a negotiated settlement, saying a meeting with the union might occur as early as tomorrow. "We'll sit down and talk," he said. "We'll never walk away from bargaining."

Despite the contract's rejection, one union official held out hope that the six-week strike might be brought to an end soon. "We're really not that far apart," said Eugene W. Dorr, staff representative of USW District 8. "We're not talking about dollars, we're talking about cents."

Mr. Dorr said the union particularly objected to a change in health care benefits that would boost costs while limiting workers' choices by switching them to managed care. For instance, the cost of family coverage would rise to $69 a month from $53. The increase is even larger compared with the $12 a month workers were paying before January.

"They're raising the rates for an inferior plan," Mr. Dorr said. He also said the rise and subsequent increases would erode the wage increase of 30 cents an hour the first year and 35 cents for each of the next two years.

"We're dealing with a very, very profitable company," Mr. Dorr said. "We don't see why the people can't share in the profits."

Mr. Gillman, however, said the wage increase would boost the lowest-paid worker from $330 a week to $367.65 in the first year -- more than offsetting the increased health costs. "That difference is more than made up in the difference in pay," he said.

Mr. Gilman said the company's rate of return is less than 10 percent and has fallen in recent years. "Our rate of return is average for what a good company should be," he said.

Annual sales for the privately held company are in the range of $60 million to $70 million.

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