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USWA: MUSHROOM WORKERS REJECT CONTRACT CALLING FOR STEEP CONCESSIONS

 WORTHINGTON, Pa., Nov. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Members of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) employed by Moonlight Mushrooms Inc. voted today to reject a contract that would have required them to take steep cuts in income and benefits, the union said.
 The vote, conducted by secret ballot, was 516 to 264. The workers, members of USWA Local 8025, had voted 618-169 on Oct. 15 to reject a similar proposal. The Local represents about 1,000 workers at Moonlight's mushroom farm here.
 "This vote demonstrates clearly that the workers, while eager to do as much as they can to save their jobs, find the company's demands unreasonable," said George F. Becker, USWA International vice president.
 "The workers have accepted cuts in the past to preserve the operation and were willing to negotiate additional cuts -- even though their contract does not expire until Aug. 1, 1994," Becker said. "But the company simply refused to consider the workers' position and gave them a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum."
 The company, claiming financial difficulties, asked the union earlier this year to re-open the contract. Initially, it had demanded wage and benefit cuts of $5,000 per worker per year -- or about $5 million -- threatening a permanent closure if the demands were rejected. Even before the Oct. 15 vote, the company announced it would cease production between Nov. 2 and Jan. 31, the union said.
 On Nov. 1, Moonlight management said it would begin an immediate shutdown of the farm unless the union agreed to a second vote on a slightly altered company proposal, the union said.
 That modification occurred after acting governor Mark Singel, at the union's instigation, said the state would provide the company financial assistance amounting to $300,000 a year for each of the next three years, the union said.
 As a result, the company said it would drop its demand for a 50-cents an hour wage cut for the largest group of workers -- mushroom pickers -- and reduce the increased charge for health insurance premiums paid by workers to $70 a month from the previous $130 a month, the union said.
 The revised company demands included a five-year contract with no wage increases; a revised bonus system; elimination of overtime pay, shift differentials, seven holidays, two weeks of vacation for senior workers and the dental insurance plan; increase worker contributions for health care premiums from the current $78 a month to $148 a month, with workers to pay all future premium increases; increases in workers' out- of-pocket costs for medical care; a freeze in the pension plan; and elimination of health care benefits for future retirees, the union said.
 The altered proposal included an offer to give workers 15 percent equity in Moonlight if it were to become profitable for two consecutive quarters.
 "Those demands leave you breathless," said Becker. "It's unreasonable to expect workers who have made significant concessions over the 10 years to accept this kind of attack on their standard of living. As it is, according to the company's own figures, they're averaging only $9.63 an hour in wages now -- and that includes overtime, bonuses and premium pay."
 Becker said the union was prepared to negotiate necessary concessions but the company insisted its demands were non-negotiable.
 "We met with the company twice last week, and I had extensive telephone conversations with company representatives this week," Becker said. "It was all to no avail. The company refused to negotiate. Instead of issuing ultimatums, the company should have been joining us in looking for ways to keep the farm in operation and save the jobs for the workers and their communities. This will be a devastating loss."
 According to the union, the meetings were held at the request of Singel, but the company representative who attended said he was not authorized to negotiate, and he refused to negotiate.
 "The only new thing he disclosed was the proposal to give the workers equity in the company with stock that he admitted was worthless," Becker added.
 -0- 11/3/93
 /CONTACT: Bill Hutchinson, staff representative, USWA District 20, 412-297-5118; Pete Connor, president, USWA Local 8025, 412-297-5118; or USWA Communications Department, 412-562-2442/


CO: United Steelworkers of America; Moonlight Mushrooms Inc. ST: Pennsylvania IN: FOD SU: CON

DM -- PG015 -- 0437 11/03/93 20:47 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 3, 1993
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