February 27, 1995 in Nation/World

Pickets Remain Skeptical Some Steelworkers Call Tentative Agreement `A Joke’

By The Spokesman-Review

Several Steelworkers held their picket signs Sunday and said a potential settlement of their weeklong strike against Kaiser Aluminum Corp. is humorous - in a way.

About 2,000 Spokane members of the United Steelworkers of America struck Kaiser last Monday. On Tuesday, they are to vote on a new contract proposal.

“It’s a joke,” said Chris Jenkins, a heavy equipment mechanic standing in front of the main entrance to the Mead smelter. “I don’t know if you can print what we’ve got to say. It’d make good toilet paper.”

Many Steelworkers were waiting for the punch line - an explanation of any rewording of a letter of understanding which restricts Kaiser’s ability to combine jobs to reduce the work force .

Mead workers said they fear wording changes would mean lost jobs.

Jerry Miller, president of Steelworkers Local 329, is supposed to explain any changes today.

“We don’t know what the new wording is yet,” said Steve Karr. “Until we know more, it’s hard for anyone to make up their mind.”

The tentative agreement, announced late Saturday, extends medical benefits to spouses making as much as $15,000 instead of $10,000. In addition, workers can take their signing bonus as either two personal days during the 47-month agreement or $200 cash.

That was enough for some strikers at Mead to make up their minds.

“It doesn’t mean nothing,” Allen Rueb said.

Some were more succinct.

“Yuck,” Jerry Matchett said.

And several weren’t happy that union leaders have signed the proposed agreement.

“It makes me angry that we’re standing out here and this is what we have to look forward to,” Jenkins said. “It’s an insult. They’re messing with my wife, my family, my kids, and they want to give us this.”

At the same time, some Steelworkers tried to see the agreement through union leaders’ eyes.

“I just think they probably want us to go back to work,” Matchett said. “They probably have seen the company is not going to give any more.”

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