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Picket line deal struck; no strike talks set

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 14, 1998

CONVENT – As promised Friday, an agreement was successfully hammered out Saturday in St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin Jr.’s office to shiftthe Airline Highway picket line at Kaiser Aluminum off the shoulder of the road.

Sam Thomas, spokesman for United Steelworkers of America Local 5702, said the line shifted 30 feet Sunday at 1 p.m. onto Kaiser property.The purpose of shifting the line was to clear up traffic problems, as large trucks were forced to partially block the highway while picketers halted the vehicles for 90 seconds at a time.

Also, by being forced to picket less than 10 feet from the traffic lane, strikers felt themselves at risk of being struck by passing vehicles.

Prior to this agreement, strikers were confined between the highway and the Kaiser property line by a chain-link fence, along with a guardtower and silent guards armed with cameras photographing every vehicle stoppage.

Such security measures make for a safer picket line, Ray Milchovich, Kaiser Aluminum’s president and chief operating officer, claimed last week. “Last time (in 1995), we had three people hit by cars. This gives usbetter control and visibility.”In other strike-related news, talks are still unscheduled, despite the claims last Thursday of Milchovich.

Milchovich, during a press conference Oct. 8 in Convent, claimed,”We’reprepared to go back to the table, as long as it takes.” The strike began Sept. 30.However, in a phone conversation with the United Steelworkers on Sunday, Kaiser negotiator David Pryzbyliski declined the union’s offer to resume talks under federal mediation.

Union negotiator David Foster said in response, “I was told that Kaiser was not prepared at this point to sit down with us. Given the company’srecent press statements calling for the intervention of federal mediation, I am quite surprised that they turned down our offer to meet jointly with the mediators assigned to the case.”On Friday, according to a press release, chief negotiators for both Kaiser and the union met for several hours to discuss the status of the walkout.

Foster said, “The purpose of the meeting was to open up communications, explore several bargaining issues and approaches to starting up talks.”Kaiser’s press statement confirmed the meeting and said, “The parties are in agreement that additional meetings are necessary. The parties are inthe process of determining the time and format of such meetings.”

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