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Garden State workers strike

June 02, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Picket lines went up right after the midnight strike deadline passed Saturday at two Garden State Tanning locations and will continue around the clock, said Bob Hinkle, a representative of UNITE International, which represents more than 700 union workers.

"And today we will also be picketing at the corporate headquarters," Hinkle said from the picket lines Sunday.

The company's three locations in Washington County are the corporate headquarters at 13712 Crayton Blvd., and plants at 9912 Governor Lane Blvd. and 15717 Clear Spring Road in Williamsport.

The strike followed a vote by union members earlier Saturday to reject a counteroffer from the automotive leather manufacturer, union officials said.

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In a faxed statement received Sunday at 1:30 p.m., Garden State President and Chief Executive Officer Mark D. Lecher said 332 of the 751 eligible union members voted to reject the company's final contract offer on a new labor agreement.

In his statement, Lecher said more than 200 of the eligible union members didn't participate in the final decision, leaving the company with concerns that the final offer "wasn't clearly communicated to the work force."

Lecher also said in his statement that the company will take steps to ensure that the offer, which he said reflected "significant improvements" in its revised form, is communicated properly to the workers.

"He's right. They did make some moves," Hinkle said. But Hinkle said that involved offering 15 cents more an hour to 500 piece-rate workers whose hourly wage was being cut $4 to $6 in the original contract.

"That's not good enough," he said.

Hinkle credited the company with making a decent move on insurance. But Garden State froze pensions for some workers who have been there 30 to 35 years, offering instead a 401(k) plan that Hinkle said wasn't as good.

"And then there is the seniority issue," Hinkle said, explaining that company officials wanted to disregard seniority for open positions and appoint leaders for each department, union officials have said.

Around 100 union members were set to picket at the company's two plants in the Williamsport area Sunday, said Bobby Colvin, president of Local 658T for UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.

Saturday morning, union officials presented the company's counteroffer to between 550 and 600 union members, Colvin said. The members overwhelmingly voted to reject the offer, setting the stage for the strike when the current five-year contract expired at midnight, he said.

"Today, the U.S. leather industry is a mere shadow of its past," Lecher said in his statement. "The company views this contract as an important step in deciding the future of leather manufacturing in Western Maryland."

The Washington County Sheriff's Department has been maintaining a few deputies at Garden State's plants since the midnight deadline as a precaution to keep the peace. No incidents had been reported, a spokesman at the sheriff's department said late Sunday afternoon.

The company will pay for the overtime for those deputies, according to Cpl. James Grimm Jr.

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