Crown brass under fire

Losses diminish, but annual meeting turns acrimonious

Oil industry

April 23, 1999|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Crown Central Petroleum's annual shareholders meeting yesterday was punctuated by attacks on executives and a director by shareholders and others who were sympathetic to Crown workers locked out of their Texas refinery jobs for more than three years.

Baltimore-based Crown announced that it lost $11.8 million, or $1.20 per share, in its first quarter that ended March 31, a slight improvement over losses of $13.7 million, or $1.40 a share, in the first quarter of 1998.

Sales plunged 32 percent to $225 million. One reason: Gasoline prices were so low and refining such a money-loser that the company shut down the gasoline-production equipment at one refinery for 24 days.

The 252 workers locked out of Crown's Pasadena, Texas, refinery since February 1996 are represented by the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers Union International (PACE).

Union executives released a report this week alleging that the company violated securities laws by not disclosing all its problems in its financial statements.

In his management report at the meeting, Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., Crown's chairman, chief executive and president, said the union has engaged in a "smear campaign [that] has become a personal attack on our officers and board of directors."

Rosenberg, other Crown executives and the director came under attack from shareholders, union activists and environmentalists for, among other things, Crown's financial performance, alleged sexism and racial discrimination, and the critics accused the company of polluting the air around its Pasadena refinery.

Jim Baldauf, who said he is an independent oil and gas businessman in Austin, described Crown as "a renegade company that gives the whole industry a bad name," because of its poor environmental record. He said later that he also is a member of a Texas environmentalist group.

Joe Drexler, special projects director for PACE. singled out for criticism Rosenberg and the Rev. Harold Ridley, president of Loyola College and a Crown director whom the union has been trying to pressure to force change or to resign from the board.

Drexler demanded "justice" for workers, for minority employees, for residents living around the plant and for shareholders.

"You're getting a lot of fire -- but we hold the board equally responsible," Drexler said to Rosenberg, adding that "it's an abomination that a Catholic priest turns his back on injustice."

Alvin Freeman, one of the locked-out workers, implored Rosenberg to resolve the labor dispute so the company and the union can work together to fix the company.

"We're on the same team," Freeman said. "Let's get it resolved."

The company contends that some union members sabotaged the plant in 1996, when it appeared that the contract would expire without being resolved. The union denies this.

Yesterday's meeting was held at the Turf Valley Conference Center in Ellicott City.

Stockholders elected eight directors to one-year terms and resoundingly defeated a shareholder proposal to study top executives' compensation.

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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