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Hard feeling remain after strike

August 27, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

WILLIAMSPORT - David Carter and Harold Nichols both supported the Teamsters strike against Redland Brick Co. over the last 10 weeks.

Now that the strike is over, though, they find themselves on opposite sides of a question that will tear at all 108 of the workers who walked off the job on June 18: What's next?

After much soul-searching, Nichols, 34, said he decided to accept the latest offer from Redland on Thursday night.

He said he received four different job offers during the strike. Although he disagrees with parts of the new contract, Nichols said he will return to the plant north of Williamsport when he is recalled.

"After 16 years, it's tough to start over," said Nichols, who would have lost four weeks vacation.

Carter, however, decided he has had enough. He walked into the office on Friday at 7:30 a.m. and quit after 10 1/2 years on the job.

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"I just didn't want to put up with the hassle of having to bow down to go back there," he said. "I think it's pretty sad that they care more for guys who have been there two weeks than guys who have spent their entire lives devoted to this company, who have made it what it is."

Carter, 30, said he could not abide by the company's insistence that replacement workers who were hired during the strike will be permanent.

James P. Vinke, the president and CEO of Redland, said about 25 percent of the union workers with the least seniority will not be recalled because of the replacement workers. He said they will be placed on a preferential hiring list for future jobs.

Vinke said the company brought maintenance workers back to the plant on Friday and will call other employees back next week.

"We're in the process of putting a plan in place," he said.

Vinke said it will be some time before the plant returns to pre-strike production levels.

"There's too many issues in starting up a plant of this nature," he said. "Starting up a brick plant, getting all the components synchronized and different departments that are separate from one another, is complicated."

Meanwhile, plenty of hard feelings remain among many union members who felt they were forced into a bad deal.

Glenn Jordan, the Teamsters Local 992 shop steward, said at least two workers will not come back. But he said it is impossible to determine how many more will follow suit.

"Some of our guys probably won't come back," he said. "On the strike line, people talk. 'I'm not coming back.' You can't really tell until it happens."

Jordan and others agreed that the strike began to crumble when eight union members crossed the picket line about two weeks ago. Twenty more workers were considering coming back to work, he said.

"The hardest part for me in the strike was when our guys crossed the line. That weakened the strike," he said.

"That was what broke the strike," Carter said. "If you don't have unity, you have nothing."

The workers received $55 a week in strike pay and struggled to makes ends meet during the 10 weeks.

Carter said he took a job building houses. It brought in money to the family, but no insurance for his two children.

"It was difficult for everybody," he said.

Nichols said had no other job, but benefitted from his wife's insurance.

"It was tight times. We didn't go to the beach like we planned," he said.

Vinke said the company also suffered during the strike.

"It cost the company a substantial amount of money. I certainly wouldn't want to quote figures," he said.

Union members now will work with their brethren who crossed the picket line and workers who replaced them during the strike.

Jordan said he doesn't know how everyone will react.

"I'm not sure. Everybody's different," he said. "I have no hard feelings toward anybody."

Nichols said one of his closest friends crossed the picket line and returned to work. He said he disagrees with his decision, but does not hold a grudge.

Several union workers said the new contract includes a provision that forbids harassing the replacement workers. But Nichols and others said the new workers will get cold shoulders, at the very least.

"I think common sense will tell you when you stray on someone else's territory, he's not going to take kindly to it," Nichols said. "I'm not going to offer them friendship."

Several workers also predicted the company will have trouble bringing production back up.

Carter predicted fewer union members will return than the company realizes. Many of those who do come back probably will leave when they find new jobs.

"All the young guys, if they're smart, will keep looking," he said.

Nichols said he thinks many of the replacement workers will quit because they cannot keep up with the pace experienced workers will set.

"I don't think these guys know what's coming," he said.

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