Esskay will remain in Baltimore instead of moving to Indianapolis if it can obtain bank financing for a new processing plant, the financially troubled meat packer announced yesterday.
The 126-year old company's change of heart from plans announced earlier this month came after its workers voted Sunday to ratify a rescue plan hammered out between company officials and union leaders. Representatives of the two sides said they hope that the new union pact will help the firm -- whose real name is Schluderberg-Kurdle Co. Inc. -- get its financing, saving more than 400 jobs that would be lost if the firm left Baltimore.
Under the agreement, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Esskay's largest union, voted to extend its contract, continuing for five more years the wage cuts it accepted last year. The new contract allows Esskay a year's delay in building a modern factory to replace its 1920s-vintage plant.
Esskay, in turn, promised to stay in Baltimore and to continue to look for financing for a new plant, union spokesman Richard Eventoff said. Esskay executives said that moving to Indianapolis is still a possibility if the financing is not obtained, but Eventoff warned that such a move now would cause Esskay to lose most of the Maryland market -- its biggest sales market -- forever.
Eventoff also said that he believed Esskay's original intention to move to Indianapolis was genuine -- a view echoed by Esskay and city officials. He added that one factor in the new decision was the discovery that the Indiana facility is too small, an assertion that Esskay Executive Vice President Joseph Kershaw denied.
Esskay President LeRoy Joseph said that Esskay should know in the next two days whether it can secure financing. If financing commitments are obtained, Joseph expects Esskay's board of directors to agree at a meeting on Friday to remain in Baltimore.
The company is negotiating for financing with Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust, Union Trust Co. of Maryland, Maryland National Bank and Wells Fargo Business Credit Co., Joseph said. Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer and the Baltimore Economic Development Corp. are scrambling to help Esskay secure the loans.
Kershaw said he hopes that delaying the new plant another year while keeping labor costs down will help entice bankers to purchase industrial revenue bonds.
Under an agreement made last year, the meatpacking plant had promised to break ground on a new plant in Baltimore this May in exchange for wage and benefit concessions from its employes.
That agreement became void when Esskay was unable to assemble a $15.4 million financing package needed to build the plant. City and company officials blamed the failure to find a bank to buy the industrial revenue bonds on Esskay's steady losses over the last few years and on the bleak outlook for the entire meatpacking industry.
On Feb. 1, the company announced that it was planning to move to Indianapolis and that it would lay off about 460 of its 630 employes during the next two to three months.
Under the agreement signed Sunday, Esskay will delay construction of the new facility until September 1986 while the union concessions from last fall remain in place. "The union is not giving up anything," Eventoff of the UFCW said. "The agreement was a reaffirmation of concessions made in November. There were no further concessions."