Harris reaches deal with union at Parks Ex-football star buying sausage plant, pending court OK

July 23, 1996|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Franco Harris, the former football star and prospective buyer of Parks Sausage Co., has reached a 3 1/2 -year agreement with the union that represents the majority of the company's Baltimore work force.

The agreement, ratified overwhelmingly Sunday by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27, would give the union's 90 to 100 members the first jobs at the Baltimore plant.

"At this point, they plan on taking everybody back," said Buddy Mays, president of Local 27. "When and how is contingent on the business they pick up."

Harris, who said last month that he wanted to evaluate every employee before rehiring them, could not be reached yesterday.

E. Kenneth Brown, a marketing consultant who negotiated on behalf of Harris' company, Parks LLC, called the contract "favorable for everyone."

"There was give and take on both sides," he said. "We're getting off on the right foot." A federal bankruptcy judge is scheduled to rule tomorrow on Harris' proposal to buy Parks, which closed its doors May 24. The company sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month as part of the Harris deal. Harris, the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and majority owner of Super Bakery Inc., would buy Parks for $1.7 million.

Most of the purchase price would be divided among creditors whose $2.4 million in debt is not secured by collateral. Secured creditors, owed about $8.2 million, would accept less than half that amount. The city would take $500,000 out of the company's profits to satisfy a $2.4 million loan.

Harris reopened Parks late last month as part of a bankruptcy court-approved plan. Since the reopening, Parks has hired about 50 people, including between 40 and 45 Local 27 members.

In the months before the shutdown, Parks employed 219 people, including about 130 in Baltimore, according to the company. In a statement, Mays praised Parks chairman Raymond V. Haysbert Sr. for not taking offers "that would have cost members their jobs, either by selling the brand name or moving production out of state Haysbert never abandoned our members or the city of Baltimore."

The labor agreement would take effect upon the sale to Harris, which is expected to be made final next month. The agreement would expire in March 2000, said Joel Smith, the union's attorney.

Mays said Harris plans to bring enough work to Parks' Baltimore plant to recall all union members. He said he did not have additional details.

Under the union's agreement with Harris, the Local 27 members would receive the same pay rate, which averages about $10 an hour, that they were making before the shutdown.

They would receive an increase of 25 cents an hour in March of each of the next three years.

In addition, Parks LLC will contribute 62 cents per hour toward a pension plan for workers. Union members will keep their vacation time and their seniority, Mays said.

Workers voted 48-2 to support the contract, Mays said. "Our members are supportive because they've been out of work for a month," Mays said. "And in this day and age, to get your job back with all your seniority and vacation is unheard of."

The union agreed to merge some job classifications, which essentially gives the company more latitude in assigning responsibilities. "Most of the workers have done every job there anyway," Mays said. Last month, after the sale was announced, Harris said he would measure employees according to their performance, not seniority.

He also said he was not interested in wage cuts or in running a non-union shop.

Smith, the union's attorney, said Harris moved quickly to reach an agreement because he understands the quality and dedication of the work force. "These people realize that labor is as important as capital," he said.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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