Leaders of BethShip union meet with bidder for yard Workers' negotiators are studying data from WHX executives


March 01, 1997|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Officials of WHX Corp. and the union that represents most of BethShip Inc.'s workers have met for the first time to discuss the New York-based company's interest in buying the Sparrows Point yard, union officials said yesterday.

"For the most part, it was a, 'Hello, here I am meeting,' " said Murphy Thornton, president of Local Lodge S-33 of the Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers of America/International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Thornton said the meeting, held Thursday, lasted for a little more than two hours. He declined to discuss details. He said the union might have struggles with WHX, but added: "We anticipate struggles with anyone."

He said Paul Bucha, a WHX director, and another company official delivered a packet of information that was being reviewed by the union's negotiating committee yesterday. Phone messages left at Bucha's office were not returned.

Experts in the steel and shipbuilding industries said they expect WHX Corp., which offered about $27 million for the yard, to move to cut labor costs.

WHX, the sole company negotiating to buy the Sparrows Point yard from Bethlehem Steel Corp., is in the fifth month of a strike by 4,500 workers at its Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The Wheeling-Pittsburgh workers are demanding the type of traditional pension BethShip workers have -- a defined-benefit plan that guarantees a set monthly payment based on a worker's years of service.

Under Wheeling-Pittsburgh's defined contribution plan, the company makes contributions based on the hours an employee works and market conditions.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Baltimore County Republican whose district includes BethShip, said he met recently with WHX officials to discuss the sale. He said the discussion didn't include details about workers' benefits.

He said WHX has the ability to make badly needed investments in the shipyard. "I think this is going to happen and it's going to happen on favorable terms," the congressman said.

Pub Date: 3/01/97

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