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Union Leaders Gather To Draft New Proposal Pickets, Meanwhile, Told They Will Be Cited For Blocking Traffic At Local Kaiser Plants

Local leaders of the United Steelworkers of America huddled Thursday to draft a proposal for resolving their four-day-old strike against Kaiser Aluminum Corp.

Ron Burke, grievance committee chairman for the union at the Trentwood rolling mill, was tight-lipped about the internal discussions.

But he said union officials probably would work through the weekend on an alternative to the contract proposal rejected last week by 3,000 Kaiser workers.

About 2,000 of those work at Trentwood or the Mead smelter.

While Kaiser spokeswoman Susan Ashe said the company is open to overtures from the union, she added that “our final offer is on the table.”

Burke mentioned the internal meetings outside the Trentwood gate, where he had just told pickets they no longer would be allowed on the pavement to block incoming and outgoing traffic.

Nor can they continue to pound vehicles with signs. A bus window was broken out Thursday by a sign.

Burke said Spokane County sheriff’s deputies would be posted full time at both Kaiser plants.

“They’re going to start citing people,” he said. After one citation, the picket will be brought to the local’s office for the remainder of that shift.

The second citation means a trip to jail, Burke said.

He said the union wants to preserve public good will that has accompanied the strike, the first companywide in Kaiser’s history.

“We don’t want this thing to turn nasty on us,” he said.

Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Wiyrick said the decision to move pickets off the pavement was for their safety as well as that of the drivers going through company gates.

Truckers, he said, will be held to 3 mph entering and leaving the plants.

Wiyrick could not estimate what the cost of posting a deputy at each plant would be, but said it would be simpler than responding to repeated aid calls.

Although a few citations have been issued in connection with the picketing, there have been no arrests since the strike began Monday.

Thursday, Mead workers received their last full paychecks from the company until the strike is over.

A line tailed out the door of Steelworker Local 329’s office on East Francis as checks were distributed along with information about filling out state unemployment forms - strikers are not eligible, workers subject to a lockout are - and where to get other assistance.

Many said perceptions they receive excessive pay are false, and showed pay stubs that indicated gross revenues that work out to about $13 an hour.

“You don’t make a killing,” said Randy Stafford, who has worked at Mead 17 years.

Stafford said he has few financial obligations, so the strike will be less of a hardship than it will be for others.

But the emotion of picking up the final check, he said, “is sickening.”

Steve Sims, one of the union’s negotiators with Kaiser, said the rejected compensation package provided less than the $1 an hour the company claims because it includes money now received as cost-of-living adjustments.

A new cost-of-living provision actually would reduce pay for those who do not work much overtime, he said.

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