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Kaiser picket line pushed back to side of Airline

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / November 25, 1998

CONVENT – An Oct. 10 agreement which shifted the Airline Highway picketline 30 feet into Kaiser Aluminum lasted only six weeks. Kaiser moved thestrikers back out to the shoulder of the highway Saturday, claiming harassment by the picketers.

The original agreement, orchestrated by St. James Parish Sheriff WillyMartin Jr., was aimed at clearing up traffic problems brought on bypicketing delays. However, Kaiser spokesman John Jennings said movingthe picketers back out shouldn’t bring back that problem.

Wayne Stafford, president of United Steel Workers of America Local 5702, said Kaiser took the action “for spite, I guess.”Kaiser took the union to court on Nov. 19, where 23rd Judicial DistrictJudge Alvin Turner ruled the union could only stop vehicles for 45 seconds at a time, instead of the 90 seconds as before.

Martin added, “I’m still not sure what happened.”The sheriff said he was personally phoned by Kaiser plant manager Bill Kirsch and told the line was being moved back because the union was not staying in compliance with the court order. He claimed picketers wereharassing drivers and tossing nails on the pavement to cause flat tires.

“I told him I disagreed with his decision,” Martin said. “I don’t see all theproblems he’s complaining about.”On the other hand, Martin continued, “The picketers have been doing the right thing. They’re letting the long trucks through without stopping them.The judge is pretty upset about it.”The sheriff added that if any traffic accident happens because of the picket shift, it would reflect badly on Kaiser.

“In my opinion, it shows Kaiser didn’t make that (Oct. 10) agreement ingood faith,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kaiser has opened two other gates to relieve traffic congestion, one on River Road and one on the northwest quadrant of the plant site. “None of our other plants are having this,” Jennings said.Only Gramercy is allowed to stop traffic, based on a precedent set by the Bayou Steel strike in LaPlace.

Jennings said of Sheriff Martin, “He understands the company’s position.”Martin responded, “I’m very disappointed.”In other strike-related news, the union announced Nov. 19 it was askingfederal mediators to schedule a resumption of talks with Kaiser management. The announcement came in response to a story that Kaiserplanned to pursue an aggressive bargaining agenda that would eliminate 600 to 900 jobs and leave hundreds of employees out of work.

David Foster, chairman of the union negotiating committee, termed the Kaiser plan as “murderous to the hundreds of families that would be left jobless in its wake.”He added, “It is another sign of out-of-control corporate greed recklessly and unnecessarily stripping jobs from our communities. This is a companythat made $168 million in operating profits in 1997 and boasted of ‘best- ever performance’ in each of its five plants.”

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