Heavy-equipment operators' strike ends in compromise Tentative deal addresses Saturday pay issue

April 11, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

A strike by heavy-equipment operators in Baltimore ended yesterday after negotiators reached the outline of a compromise on the key issue: time-and-a-half pay for Saturday work.

Under the terms of the tentative deal, the five companies being struck by Local 37 of the International Union of Operating Engineers will agree not to discriminate against workers who already have worked 40 hours in a week when there is Saturday work to be awarded. The companies will not, however, guarantee time-and-a-half pay for all Saturday work -- what the union wanted.

The operating engineers run earth-moving equipment, cranes, forklifts and similar machinery at construction sites that include the state's light rail system, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Baltimore Convention Center.

"We called everyone in and told them to go back to work," said Ron DeJuliis, business manager for the Hamilton-based local. "We're having a meeting with [management] Friday and we're pretty confident we'll be able to get it resolved."

Frank S. Astroth, a Towson attorney representing the five contractors, said he had been directed to draft compromise language in advance of tomorrow's meeting. He said employers had no problem with the deal because it's inefficient to bring in a different operator for Saturday work simply to avoid paying overtime.

"The relationship between the companies and the union has been a good relationship," Mr. Astroth said. "Things happen, and you do what you have to do."

The walkout began Tuesday after union members voted down a proposed contract Monday, even though it described management's wage offer as fair. The companies offered workers who now make $15.02 to $15.89 an hour raises totaling $1.35 an hour over the course of the three-year proposal. The union also said management's proposal to maintain contributions to pension and benefit plans at an average of $5.35 an hour was acceptable.

The union, however, had wanted to get automatic time-and-one-half pay for weekend work. Operating engineers had that benefit until the early 1990s, when the union granted a package of concessions to recession-strapped employers as construction activity plummeted and profits in the industry virtually evaporated.

Mr. DeJuliis said the strike was worthwhile even though it was over a limited issue.

"Maybe just bringing the realization to everyone about the importance of the issue," was enough to justify the walkout, he said.

Mr. DeJuliis had estimated that about 150 to 200 workers had walked off 50 to 60 job sites, figures that are lower than they would be in the summertime because construction is highly seasonal.

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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