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Workers add a 25-foot rat to picket line

April 12, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The second day of a strike at Capitol Cement Corp. took on a different look Thursday when a 25-foot inflatable rat turned up on the picket line.

In union circles, a rat is a union worker who crosses a picket line during a strike, said Chris Perkins, president of the Local D-208 of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

On Thursday, Perkins said that about eight union ironworkers associated with the AFL-CIO crossed the picket lines to work in the cement plant off South Queen Street Extended.

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The AFL-CIO brought the rat to the picket line to bring attention to the issue and to help show support for striking workers, said Perkins.

About 155 union workers at Capitol Cement went on strike at 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon over changes in medical insurance, use of outside contractors and other issues, the union said.

Workers at the cement plant along South Queen Street extended went on strike after working unsuccessfully for about year to resolve differences with management, said Raleigh Eversole III, international representative of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

The contract between workers and the company expired May 1, 2001, and since then, the union and company officials have been operating on a month-by-month agreement, said Eversole.

Workers have been unhappy about "out-sourcing" practices, the use of nonunion, outside contractors at the plant, said Eversole. Workers are also dissatisfied about decreased level of medical benefits and issues related to their pension, said Eversole.

Riverton Corp., the company that owns the cement plant, issued a statement Thursday saying more than 30 bargaining sessions were held in an attempt to reach an agreement. During the discussions, management made proposals that were endorsed by a union negotiating committee but were rejected by the union membership, the statement said.

The current average wage at the plant is in excess of $16 an hour and there is a full medical and dental program requiring no employee contribution, according to the statement.

Eversole agreed the medical and dental program does not require an employee contribution, but the co-payments that workers would have to make for services have increased, said Eversole.

"The quality of coverage has decreased. We traded a Cadillac for a junker," he said.

Eversole said he does not recall a union negotiating team endorsing any company offers.

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