Protest targets stalled talks Lockout at incinerator in southern Baltimore has left 70 jobless

January 21, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

About 150 union members, Baltimore residents and environmentalists rallied outside a Hawkins Point medical incinerator yesterday to protest a stalemate in contract negotiations that has left 70 workers unemployed since the company locked them out in June.

The protesters began gathering outside the incinerator at 3200 Hawkins Point Road, owned by Phoenix Services Inc., about 4: 30 p.m. The incinerator is on the southern edge of the city, just north of the Anne Arundel County line.

The rally, organized by the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO Unions, drew supporters from the United Auto Workers, the Communications Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, among other unions. The Phoenix employees are members of the United Steelworkers of America Local 12517-1.

"We just want the company to know that if you take on any one of us, regardless of its size, we're going to support one another," said Ernie Grecco, president of the AFL-CIO Council.

John Buscemi, unit chair of the Phoenix employees' union, said negotiations collapsed over the company's plan to fire its truck drivers. On June 30, the day the contract expired, arriving evening shift workers were barred from the plant, said Buscemi, a truck driver. Nonunion replacement workers were inside.

Since then, the company and union negotiators have met unsuccessfully 18 times, Buscemi said. They will meet again today.

Michael Plank, the company's director of sales and services, stood at the gate watching the rally and said the company had no comment.

Environmentalists and city elected officials have supported the Phoenix workers, arguing that the lockout conflicts with a controversial bill the City Council passed in March allowing the incinerator to collect medical waste from any city within 250 miles. Previously, it could take trash only from a few Maryland counties.

Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, who represents the area, said council members thought the measure would encourage Phoenix to hire more people. Instead, the company plans to close its transportation division. Reisinger, who marched with the workers, said he is moving to repeal the March bill.

Environmentalists said they fear that replacement workers, who have no union protection, might be afraid to report environmental infractions for fear of losing their jobs.

Union members "were our eyes and our ears inside" the plant, said Terry J. Harris, chairman of the Baltimore City League of Environmental Voters.

Protesters forced open the plant's gate and walked onto the parking lot until police arrived at 5: 25 p.m. and moved them back out. Grecco and Buscemi gave short speeches before the crowd dispersed about 20 minutes later. About 50 stayed to continue picketing.

"I hope that the company realizes that we're not going away," Buscemi said, "and that they'll come to a fair agreement with us."

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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