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Walkout at Kaiser continues; talks begin

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / October 26, 1998

GRAMERCY – The Kaiser strike continues and, as talks begin in Chicago, a rally of support is scheduled Sunday at the St. James Boat Club.Preliminary talks began Wednesday in Chicago with a federal mediator, according to both union and Kaiser sources. Talks are expected to continuenext week. A statement from the United Steelworkers of America added,”These discussions will continue next week, and further face-to-face exploratory meetings will be scheduled, subject to the call of the mediator and the agreement of the parties.”Kaiser company chairman David Pryzbylski requested the meetings to explore the feasibility of having further talks and suggested the use of a mediator to permit each side to express their positions.

No actual negotiations were scheduled.

On Sunday at the St. James Boat Club on Airline Highway, a solidarity rallyis set to begin at 1 p.m. The public is invited, according to union officials.Free refreshments will be served.

And inside Kaiserfs Gramercy facility, replacement workers keep the plant in operation. Company officials say the plant is running at or near fullcapacity.

Comptroller John T. Jennings said Kaiser was “able to find operators withboard training.”Kaiser supervisors working during the strike began going home after the ninth day of the walkout, while the replacement workers began rotating out on the 12th day. By Day 22, trailers which housed up to 10 workerswere being moved from the plant site as more and more began to be housed off-site.

“You can’t stay locked up forever,” Jennings said.

In all, 295 replacement workers were provided by Harmony Construction Co. of Baton Rouge. They are joined by 90 administrators and supervisorsfrom the Gramercy plant and a handful of others from other facilities.

Injuries, Jennings insisted, have been at a minimum, with no lost-time accidents.

Jennings said he is not surprised at the lack of progress in the strike.

“Typically, on negotiations, there is a gap. It’s pretty far this time,” hesaid.

He explained one side will shoot for an unrealistic position, knowing they will compromise down to a settlement. “The rank and file take this toheart. They don’t know how negotiations work,” he said.None of the replacement workers were permitted to be interviewed, nor could their faces to be photographed.

At Local 5702 headquarters in Lutcher Town Hall, a continual flow of strikers came and went, picking up flyers for tomorrow’s rally and distributing them as far as St. Charles Parish.A calendar on a wall lists sponsors for each day who provide meals for those on 12-hour picket duty. Nearly every eatery is represented, as wellas other businesses in St. James Parish.When asked if he was doing all right during the walkout, one striker, David Delaneauville of Lutcher, responded with a quick, terse “No.”He said he has three daughters attending Riverside Academy, and he was working to make certain of his children’s education.

However, he stated firmly, “There’s no way in hell I’m crossing a picket line.”Elsewhere in the country, the Kaiser strike is making headlines. InSeattle, a Kaiser contractor was accused of violating state law by recruiting out-of-state strikebreakers.

In Oakland, Calif., charges of unfair labor practices were filed, assertingthe company has no intentions of negotiating in good faith.

Also, the union has expressed concern “over the company’s denial to allow the union safety chairman to accompany the MSHA (Mines Safety Health Act) compliance inspector on an investigation of complaints against the company.”The union contends Kaiser has covered up reports of injuries and accidents at the site.

Kaiser Aluminum’s Gramercy works received its first shipment of ore in April 1959. The strike began Sept. 30.

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