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Thompson Steel talks continue as strikers stroll


Negotiations continued yesterday as striking United Steelworkers of America members picketed outside Thompson Steel Co. Inc. in Sparrows Point for the third day in a row.

Their one-year agreement expired Friday, and on Monday members voted 59-1 against the proposed contract. About 60 production and maintenance workers in Local 5211 are affected, as are about 10 office and technical workers in Local 5211-1.

"Both sides are being professional," said Stanley Biggus, a staff representative for the union who is handling the negotiations. "The company has its views, and the local union has its views."

He said the union usually gets three-year contracts, but that last year the company, which is based outside Boston, said it was losing money and that if the contracts could not be restructured, the plant would close. Workers agreed and accepted a one-year contract that included no raises but did offer a $300 bonus for members of Local 5211 each quarter if certain production goals were met. Biggus said workers received the bonus each quarter.

He said the company had been losing about $5 million to $6 million annually but that last year the loss narrowed to $1 million. Company officials now want workers to accept a new health care plan that gives them fewer benefits with more out-of-pocket expenses, Biggus said, adding that workers should not have to pay more for less, and if they do pay more they should get raises to offset the costs.

Officials at the company's headquarters in Canton, Mass., declined to comment about the negotiations or Thompson's financials.

Gene Miller, manager of the Sparrows Point plant, which processes steel for automotive-parts makers and other customers, said strikes are always difficult.

"The negotiations are ongoing," he said, "and, hopefully, it won't last too long."

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