Workers at Eastern Stainless Corp. yesterday approved a four-year labor agreement, clearing the way for the sale of the troubled stainless steel plant to Avesta Sheffield, a Swedish stainless steel company.
The contract, which was ratified by a 166-to-45 vote, comes after 11 months of negotiations between Avesta, Armco Inc. -- the current owner of Eastern Stainless -- and the United Steelworkers of America, which represents most of the 280 workers at the plant in southeastern Baltimore County.
The agreement was necessary to complete the $27.1 million sale of the plant to one of the world's largest stainless steel companies.
"It is not a concessionary package," said Bill Nugent, the assistant to the Steelworkers' district director for Maryland. The contract provides a 75-cent-an-hour wage increase during the next four years to workers who now earn between $13.25 and $16.25 an hour. The agreement also includes a new profit-sharing program. To reduce the work force, Avesta is offering fattened pension payments to workers taking early retirement and severance payments.
However, some of the workers objected to many parts of the contract, including cuts in vacation time, reduction in the amount of guaranteed work per week and changes that weakened seniority rights and combine job classifications. "I think it's a terrible package," said Al Smith, 50, an electrician who has worked at Eastern Stainless for 27 years.
Other workers were concerned about a provision that allows Avesta to reduce their work week from a guaranteed 32 hours to 20 hours. "I can't live off of 20 hours a week," said Scott Nelsen, 40, a crane operator with 21 years of service at Eastern Stainless.