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No talks between union, Kaiser planned, striking workers hear

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 7, 1998

GRAMERCY – Union strikers at Kaiser Aluminum met yesterday afternoon at the St. James Boat Club in their regular monthly meeting and heardmore information about strike negotiations.

The word, according to Sam Thomas, chairman of the local negotiation committee, is that no talks are being held and no talks are scheduled.

Meanwhile, strikers on the picket lines on Airline Highway and River Road contend with silent security guards, armed with video and 35mm cameras and filming everything.

A total of 345 Gramercy workers are on strike, while a hastily-erected watchtower stands vigil on Airline Highway’s main gate. As vehiclesapproach the gates, in or out, strikers pace slowly in front of the vehicles for 90 seconds before releasing them.

Strikers have said various drivers have slowly tried to creep forward defiantly. “It’s all about intimidation,” Thomas said.Meanwhile, when every such confrontation takes place, security guards videotape and take still photos. In Gramercy, the guards wear black T-shirts labeled: “Vance International Asset Protection Team Tactical Response Force.”They also apparently wear bulletproof vests.

“It’s comical, but it’s very serious for our members,” Thomas noted.

“We’re not gonna have any (violence). That’s not something we condone.We’re not going to be baited into something foolish.”A statement from United Steelworkers of America Local 15702 cited unfair labor practices by Kaiser during the recent failed negotiations, including: Refusing to provide critical productivity information upon which the entire company approach to bargaining was based.

Making a contract settlement offer contingent on not striking, in effect, punishing union members for exercising their right to strike.’ Proposing to take pension service away from employees in retaliation for going on strike.

Refusing to bargain over mandatory subjects of bargaining such as safety welding and return to work protocols.

David Foster, chairman of the union’s negotiation team, added he objected to company plans that would have cut Kaiser’s hourly work force at the five plants by nearly 20 percent, an estimated 300 jobs, including 57 jobs in Gramercy. Company officials said the total is closer to 100 jobs.On the other hand, Kaiser’s last offer included: A five-year contract, longer than the prior agreement.

A package of wage and benefit improvements of 15 percent above the value of the last contract.

An average $2.75 per hour base-wage increase over five years. $750 per person bonus for represented employees, following ratification of the new contract.

Contracting out nearly 100 jobs that require special skills or those not central to plant operations.

No involuntary terminations for employees affected by the proposed productivity and efficiency initiatives.

The prior labor agreement expired at 7 p.m., Sept. 30, after 16 days ofnegotiations. After a brief extension to consider the company’s finalproposal, the union called the strike at 10:30 p.m.The strike affects five facilities across the nation, including those in Tacoma and Spokane, Wash.; Newark, Ohio; and Gramercy.

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