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Kaiser Pickets Harass Workers Salaried Employees Working 12-Hour Shifts Keep Plants Operating; No Talks Scheduled

Operations inside Kaiser Aluminum Corp.’s Spokane plants continued Tuesday as pickets outside the Mead smelter and Trentwood rolling mill harassed incoming and outgoing traffic.

Late Tuesday, Kaiser spokeswoman Susan Ashe reported that one of the salaried workers staffing the Mead plant had been forced to leave due to heat fatigue.

An ambulance responded to the call for aid, she said, but no other information was available.

Salaried Kaiser employees are working 12-hour shifts to maintain operations at Mead and Trentwood, as well as other company plants in Ohio, Louisiana and Tacoma.

United Steelworkers of America members have said they do not believe the plants can sustain operations long with skeleton management work forces. The strike by the Steelworkers enters its third day today.

Steelworkers’ confidence did not prevent them from voicing their anger at the admission of a bus carrying managers into Mead on Tuesday afternoon.

The white Mayflower bus was repulsed initially, then allowed to pass when plant Industrial Relations Superintendent Bill Stamps told striking members of Steelworkers Local 329 the passengers were salaried workers from Trentwood.

Stamps’ assurances did not stop pickets from cursing the bus passengers, who disembarked with what looked like sleeping bags and other gear within sight of Mead’s main gate.

Pickets also denounced security guards who videotaped their activity.

An effigy of the substitute workers hung in a tree across the street.

Ashe said Kaiser has beefed up security for the strike. Also, she said, Spokane County sheriff’s deputies have been summoned to explain picketing guidelines to workers.

“We need to be able to move raw material in and finished product out,” Ashe said.

Mead workers anxious for information on the possibility of new contract talks - none are scheduled - clustered around head steward Steve Sims, who returned Monday from Louisiana, where union and company representatives last met.

Sims said the union is awaiting a sign from Kaiser that talks should resume.

He said workers have grown tired of a decade-old pattern that requires them to give up something to gain something.

Gary Kent, who has been with Kaiser 34 years, said he is supporting a second family with considerably less support from the company, which used to pay all medical costs.

“I’m a little worried about what it will cost for my 5-year-old,” he said.

Kent said workers lost medical protection when they walked out Monday.

He said the company is seeking additional adjustments in the medical plan that could increase costs, although Kaiser said the change will boost coverage. Although the package includes about a $1-an-hour wage increase over the next four years, most workers have faulted a letter of understanding that would give the company more leeway to combine jobs.

At Trentwood, where restructuring already has trimmed hundreds of salaried and hourly positions, pickets were relatively quiet after a confrontation Monday that sent one worker spilling over the hood of an incoming truck.

Picket captain Doug Penfield said other unions were expressing willingness to walk the line with Kaiser employees. Others were not crossing, he said.

The pickets reacted enthusiastically when one trucker leaving the plant opened his trailer to show he was not hauling out aluminum coils, as workers claim others have done.

Penfield and fellow picket Duane Walters, both veteran operators of the hot mill that rolls aluminum ingots into coils, said they want some compensation for the sacrifices they and other workers have made.

Walters said workers have accepted change, and take pride in the gains for the company that resulted.

Penfield noted the hot mill recently completed a record run in which more than 900 ingots were rolled without a failure.

“We’re a world-class operation,” he said. “They’ve got a world-class work force.”