With only five days left before their labor contract expires, negotiators for the United Steelworkers of America have rejected a proposed six-year contract from Bethlehem Steel Corp.
"We were insulted by the agreement from Bethlehem Steel," Donald E. Kellner, president of United Steelworkers Local 2609, told several hundred Bethlehem workers yesterday afternoon. "We're telling Bethlehem to wake up. We want an agreement."
Bethlehem's contract with the steelworkers, which expires at midnight Saturday, covers about 20,000 workers, including about 5,500 at Bethlehem's Sparrows Point steel mill in Baltimore County.
About 1,000 workers at Bethlehem's shipyard, which is adjacent to the steel mill, have been on strike since July 17. Those workers are represented by a different union.
The pattern for the steelworkers contract, which has been negotiated since June 8, was set by an agreement reached with Inland Steel Industries Inc. on June 6. That agreement includes a no-layoff clause and a 50-cent an hour wage increase over the life of the six-year contract.
A spokesman for Bethlehem Steel, Henry Von Spreckelsen, said the company would not comment on the negotiations.
On Friday, the international union's top negotiators rejected a Bethlehem Steel proposal patterned after the Inland agreement without showing it to the presidents of the 12 Bethlehem locals, Mr. Kellner said. "It's not the Inland agreement. It's not an agreement that we can live with," he said.
He said the terms were inferior to the Inland contract in terms of wages, pensions and medical benefits.
Mr. Kellner was also concerned about proposals by Bethlehem Steel to make more jobs interchangeable in the Sparrows Point plant. "I don't want a production guy operating a crane over my head," he told the workers.
Mr. Kellner said a strike committee has been formed locally, but he does not want to use it. "We can't win, but Bethlehem can't win either," he said.