Conrail strikers back on job

May 21, 1994|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

A federal judge last night forced striking maintenance workers at Conrail Inc. back on the job, ending a surprise work stoppage that had disrupted rail operations at the port of Baltimore and in 12 Northeastern and Midwestern states.

The Philadelphia-based company said operations would resume last night and return to a full schedule by tomorrow. The strike, which began unexpectedly yesterday morning, did not disrupt passenger travel.

The company obtained a temporary restraining order last night from U.S. District Judge Franklin S. VanAntwerpen in Easton, Pa., prohibiting the union's 3,500 members from striking, pending a Friday hearing.

The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees said it had authorized the strike to protest unsafe working conditions. Leaders of the union cited three accidents since December in which it said four of its members were struck by trains, killing two of the workers.

The unexpected work stoppage had stranded nearly 30,000 carloads of everything from cars and coal to food, chemicals and lumber as maintenance workers picketed Conrail entrances and other employees honored their protests.

Conrail officials had protested the union's action as illegal and said it could cost the railroad $5 million to $10 million a day.

Robert Libkind, spokesman for the railroad, said the union was trying to use the strike to force Conrail to reopen labor contract negotiations, which it was not bound to do until next year.

Mr. Libkind would not comment on what action the company might take if the judge refuses to issue a permanent injunction Friday.

In Baltimore, the strike disrupted rail service yesterday to the 574-acre Dundalk Marine Terminal, the port's largest facility, where Conrail hauls wood pulp, steel and other break bulk cargo. In addition, it shut down Conrail's Bayview terminal off Lombard Street near Interstate 95.

"Conrail moves a significant amount of wood pulp," said Michael P. Angelos, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration which oversees operation of the state's five public terminals. He said a prolonged strike could have "a bottling or backup effect on the operations."

More than a dozen workers picketed yesterday at the Bayview rail yard where cargo arrives by rail in containers and is transferred by truck to one of the state's piers. About two dozen maintenance workers are assigned to yards and tracks in the Baltimore-Washington area.

But last night, as the word of the injunction reached Baltimore, Bayview workers ended the picketing.

Chuck Burkindine, vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Federation the Brotherhood of Maintenance Workers, said the judge "had serious reservations about issuing that order."

"We wished, as part of the order, that he would have mandated protection for our people working on the tracks," he said.

Conrail is one of two railroads, along with CSX Corp., that serve the port of Baltimore. Roughly 20 percent of all the port's containerized cargo moves by rail.

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