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Union can't organize Grove

September 16, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

SHADY GROVE, Pa. - The United Steel Workers Union Thursday ended a three-month effort to organize production workers at Grove Worldwide after failing to sign up enough employees.

Union officials blamed anti-union efforts by the company for the failure. Management denied the claim.

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It could not be learned how many workers signed union cards, but federal labor department rules require at least 30 percent of a company's eligible workforce to seek union representation.

Printed statements explaining the union's position signed by Pete Passarelli, who represents the union's Pennsylvania headquarters near Pittsburgh, were handed out to Grove workers Thursday.

According to Passarelli, "Between July 8 and Sept. 15 a great many workers at Grove signed Steelworker cards, but not enough to successfully withstand an anti-union campaign from the company."

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The statement continued, "While many workers know they need a union other Grove workers are not ready to support a union at this time. We should all respect the opinion of others."

He said Grove and those workers who voted against the union have a heavy burden of solving the problems at Shady Grove. "They must pay a living wage where employees can work 40 hours and provide for their families without excessive overtime," the statement said.

Passarelli also called on the company to improve the pension plan and to give workers a voice in their company. He did not return phone calls Thursday.

Robert Kannel, manager of communications for Grove, declined to give a salary range for production workers other than to say the company offers competitive wages. "We are the employer of choice in the Cumberland Valley," he said.

Grove was bought by Keystone Investment Inc. of Texas last year for $605 million. Since then communication between management and workers has improved, Kannel said.

Management holds "town hall meetings" with workers to keep them abreast of conditions in the company. Workers chat informally with S.J. "Sam" Bonanno, Grove chairman and chief executive officer, over coffee, he said.

Donald Mallo, senior vice president of human resources at Grove, said in a prepared statement that the company "has always been union-free and we continue to maintain a desire to remain union-free. This issue has been put to employees a number of times in the past and they have always voted against unionization."

Mallo's statement said attempts to unionize Grove employees have been going on for 20 years. "Although we recognize the right of employees to seek union membership, we believe they should make up their own minds after getting all the facts," he said.

Grove has about 2,500 workers at its Shady Grove headquarters, Kannel said.

The company makes mobile cranes and aerial work platforms for the private sector and federal government.

In January, 210 production workers were laid off during a business slump. Kannel said Thursday that all furloughed employees have either been called back or told they will be. Some have found new jobs, he said.

Grove is hiring additional employees to help the company keep up with its orders, Mallo said.

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