Bethlehem local set to resume control of union

May 20, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

In an article in yesterday's Business section, a reference to a audit conducted by the United Steelworkers of America international misidentified the local involved. It was was Local 2610.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Nearly a year after being taken over by its parent union, the largest local at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point mill is poised to break free with a new slate of officers and a bankroll of $130,000.

But while officers of Local 2610 of the United Steelworkers of America say the period of control has left the local financially healthier and under a more unified leadership, some members complain that the handling of members' grievances has declined.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Local 2610, which represents 2,250 workers at the Bethlehem mill, was taken over by the international union June 16 amid allegations that local officials were receiving inflated pay, pushing the union to the brink of financial ruin.

"They had about tapped themselves out." said Harry Spedden, the Steelworkers union official who was appointed administrator of the local. "They were not living within their means."

The other local at the mill, Local 2609, which has 1,900 members, was not involved in the takeover.

Local 2610 took another step toward removing international control last night when officers elected in April were officially installed at the local's union hall on Dundalk Avenue.

The final step is scheduled for June 1 when the administratorship will be lifted, Mr. Spedden said.

"The union is in far better shape than prior to the administratorship," said Joseph Butler Jr., the newly elected president who had been serving as interim president since June. "We're not going to allow any backsliding."

Tony A. Catonzaro, who was financial secretary before the takeover and continues in that position, said the local was down to $5,000 before the international union took over. But under the administratorship, expenses were cut to about $35,000 a month from $50,000 as payments for lost time for officers were dramatically reduced.

Besides increasing the local's reserves, it allowed the local to make necessary repairs to the union hall, including a new $20,000 air conditioning system.

However, some members believe the cuts have hurt the union's grievance service, particularly by reducing the number of grievance committee members -- who handle the problems -- from nine to six.

"We keep being spread thinner and thinner," said Al Dawson, a toolmaker in the plant. "By their own admission, the grievance committee doesn't have the time to get out."

Fred T. Thomas, a bricklayer, is also concerned about the reduction in the people handling contract problems, particularly since new labor-management procedures are being introduced. "We need more members [on the grievance committee] not fewer," he said.

Even though the remaining grievance committee members are putting in more time, they still are able to serve the membership effectively, said Bernie Brennskag, chairman of the grievance committee. "I haven't heard any real complaints about a lack of service," he said.

The June takeover was sparked by an audit conducted by the international union that charged that Local 2609 officials were being overpaid. The allegations involved payments to union officials for time lost from their regular jobs in the steel mill.

The audit charged that officers were getting paid for time they were on the company payroll -- such as vacations and holidays. The audit also alleged pay rates were higher than they should be.

That audit prompted the international union to oust local President Walter Scott and other officials.

The audit said that 20 officers improperly received $217,000 from 1989 through 1991 by double-billing the union and receiving inflated wages. After a union trial, nine former officers were barred from running for office for three to five years and ordered to repay $161,292. Six of those officers, including Mr. Scott, are appealing.

About $30,000 has been repaid. The rest either is being repaid over the next three to five years or is owed by people appealing cases.

Mr. Scott, who was charged with owing $15,971.66, has previously called the charges "trumped up" and said they were politically motivated. "No one did anything to misuse the money," he said in October.

He said that, according to pay records from the company, the person doing the same job he was doing when he became president in 1988 was getting paid $3,000 to $4,000 more a year.

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