By Chris Hunt
SPOKANE, Wash. - Kaiser Aluminum Co. is tapping into its Maxxam Inc. roots for help in keeping its smelting and processing plants operating during a United Steel Workers of America strike, a company spokeswoman said Thursday.
Susan Ashe, Kaiser's Northwest Public Affairs Manager, said the company readily asked out-of-work Pacific Lumber Co. employees to come to Spokane, Wash., to help with plant operations. About 2,100 Kaiser employees are striking, she said. Ashe said PL allowed Kaiser to recruit out-of-work employees - both companies are owned by Maxxam Inc., which is, in turn, controlled by investor Charles Hurwitz. She also said that many laid-off PL workers volunteered for the work, which Ashe said pays anywhere from $13 to $18 an hour. PL employees are not union members.
Union officials said Wednesday that Kaiser is paying $25 to $30 an hour to strikebreakers, which supposedly include homeless people off the street willing to do the work.
The dollar figures being circulated by the union are simply strike propaganda, Ashe said.
According to Ashe, the company's two aluminum plants in Spokane, a plant in Tacoma, Wash., a plant in Newark, Ohio, and one in Grammarcy, La., are being operated by Kaiser management, retired employees and "temporary workers," which include the former PL employees. Kaiser is the second-largest employer in Spokane.
The strike started the night of Sept.30 after the union rejected a contract offer from Kaiser. According to Ashe, the company offered union employees a 15 percent increase in wages, but did ask for "production improvements."
According to the union, the company wanted to replace union workers with contract workers, increase medical costs to pensioners and eliminate bonuses.
And, according to Ashe, the company was prepared for the strike. She admitted the company advertised for strikebreakers, commonly called scabs by, union workers, weeks in advance of the strike.
"We had a strike in 1995," Ashe said. "It was the first strike in company history, and we weren't prepared for it. It lasted eight days. This time, we were prepared. In order to operate, we needed to upgrade our manpower, and we did recruit some workers from Northern California. Many of the (PL) workers were laid off and they expressed interest."
The unemployed PL workers are filling in for general laborers, electricians and crane operators,. among other positions.
"We're going to run our plants," Ashe said. "Just as the union has the right to strike, we have the right to operate our plants. "Ashe said there might a be slight impact on the productivity of the Kaiser plants in Spokane but she said both are operating at or near capacity."
"We have not missed a beat meeting customer demand, she said. Other than the local timber' workers laboring in the aluminum plant, Ashe said there are no ties between PL and Kaiser.
Maxxam Inc. owns about 63 percent of Kaiser, but Ashe said Maxxam and Hurwitz have no input on day-to-day operations.
[Picture: More than 150 striking union steelworkers from Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane, Wash., march through Scotia Thursday. Striking workers from Kaiser, which is owned by Maxxam, are in Humboldt County to picket their parent company. Workers have been threatened with layoffs and face increased benefit costs. Maxxam also owns Pacific lumber Co.]
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