Union members barred from Crown's meeting Company reports loss of $13 million in first quarter

April 26, 1996|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,SUN STAFF

In an odd twist to what otherwise was a low-key affair, police and lawyers yesterday kept union members from Crown Central Petroleum Corp.'s annual meeting.

A local of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers union in Pasadena, Texas, has been locked out of Crown's biggest refinery since Feb. 5 when talks broke down over a company proposal to save the company $2.5 million a year in labor costs. The proposal called for laying off about 29 workers of the 260 to 270 OCAW members in the plant, plus cuts in the role seniority plays in promotions and layoffs.

The Baltimore Police Department had at least 14 tactical officers and motorcycle officers from the traffic division to head off any problems from a picket by 40 to 50 members of the union.

Crown's sales last year were $1.9 billion. Crown has reported losses every year since 1991 and said yesterday that it lost $13 million in the first quarter of 1996.

"I'm sorry I can't say otherwise," Crown Chairman Henry A. Rosenberg Jr. said. "I'm sure you are, too."

Crown reported a loss of $10.2 million for 1995's first quarter, including a $3.3 million nonrecurring loss. Executives blamed the cold winter rather than labor problems for the loss this year.

From the police presence outside to tight security within, access to the meeting was controlled by a series of measures the company said it had not previously used. Even a union leader who owns more stock than all but one of Crown's outside directors put together was barred because he owns his shares through a company-sponsored retirement plan, rather than independently.

"If we're going to go through this Gestapo inquisition, I'll go peacefully," said Alvin Freeman, a welder at the Pasadena refinery who heads the union's Crown bargaining unit, speaking to Crown Assistant Secretary Andrew Lapayowker after the executive said he could not find Mr. Freeman's name on the official shareholder list.

"That's the list we have," Mr. Lapayowker told Mr. Freeman in a 22nd-floor lobby crowded by union members. "Only shareholders record are permitted."

Mr. Freeman is not a shareholder of record because his shares are legally held by a plan administrator who acts on behalf of savings plan participants like him. Company Counsel Thomas L. Owsley said union members who own stock through the plan could have gotten in had they obtained waivers from the plan administrator, T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. of Baltimore.

One official of the union's staff did get in, however, because the union purchased two shares of stock outside the savings plan to assure that it could gain access.

The company said it acted to head off disruption of the meeting, but declined to offer specifics about whether violence was feared. "We heard there were going to be disruptions," said company spokesman Joseph M. Coale.

A police commander said there was no trouble and the police never believed there would be. "We weren't expecting any trouble, and we didn't get any," said Maj. Arthur M. Smith of the department's tactical unit.

Inside, OCAW official Richard Leonard chided Mr. Rosenberg, who had repeated management's claims that the union sabotaged refinery equipment before the lockout. The company has said the workers painted over or removed safety warnings on some equipment and put sand in some other equipment. The union has denied any sabotage. A National Labor Relations Board arbitrator has found that the company had enough evidence of sabotage to justify a lockout, but not enough to prove the union was responsible for any damage. Mr. Leonard told Mr. Rosenberg loyal employees had been "tarred as saboteurs," and that "reputations have been damaged by these baseless allegations."

Mr. Rosenberg responded: "I appreciate your statement that they are employees of the company. They ought to consider that a very serious matter."

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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