Union says zoo talks are stuck on 4 issues

Health costs, bereavement leave among sticking points

April 07, 2004|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

The union representing workers at the Baltimore Zoo said yesterday that negotiations are at a sticking point as the two sides try to hash out four outstanding issues to reach a contract.

The zoo said it is hopeful that it will reach an agreement with the workers, who are being represented by the United Steelworkers of America.

At issue for the union is that the zoo has asked workers to pay all future increases in medical insurance premiums and has not agreed to paid funeral leaves for workers. It also has not offered union representatives enough leave days for union business, the Steelworkers say.

The zoo also wants to require the union to represent all zoo employees, about 150, including those not in the union, said Jim Strong, subdistrict director of the United Steelworkers.

More than 50 Steelworkers are expected to protest this morning at the zoo in Druid Hill Park. Zoo employees are not expected to participate in the protest because they will be working.

"We're exploring all options in lieu of a strike at this time," Strong said. "We're exploring all positions to increase public awareness on those issues and to put pressure on the zoo to be reasonable in coming to a compromise on those issues."

Baltimore Zoo workers voted to unionize in February 2003 and were certified a month later by the National Labor Relations Board. They have been negotiating since.

Zoo President Elizabeth "Billie" Grieb said the zoo doesn't know how much health care will cost, so its official position for now is that the workers pay for the increases. But she indicated the zoo would be willing to discuss it once the increases are known. As for bereavement leave, if it was the last issue on the table, negotiators are confident a compromise could be reached, she said.

Grieb also said the zoo offered the union some time off for union business and that it will require all new employees and all current part-time workers to join the union. The only nonunion members at the zoo would be current full-time workers who don't want to join, she said. When those workers retired or left, the entire zoo staff would be unionized.

The two sides are scheduled to meet again next week. "There are still a couple of points that we're discussing, but we're still negotiating," Grieb said.

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