NORFOLK -- Striking Hampton Roads tugboat crewmen last week refused to end their five-week strike, saying that their counterparts in Baltimore and Philadelphia will be next if they fold under management pressure to return to their jobs.

All 56 members of the Seafarers' International Union of North America ignored a demand that they end their strike against the Curtis Bay Towing Co. by Thursday or lose their jobs, said Randall Cudworth, a deckhand and member of the union's negotiating committee.

"They are out to break the men of this union. That was their game plan from the start," he said.

Union members in Philadelphia and Baltimore also are on strike against Curtis Bay and a second company, McAllister Bros. Towing Inc. Cudworth said strikers in the other two ports did not receive the Curtis Bay ultimatum.

McAllister also employs 56 union members in Hampton Roads, but did not issue its workers the ultimatum.

"They insinuated to us that Baltimore and Philadelphia would follow. Our feeling is that if they can break Norfolk, the others will fall," Cudworth said of Curtis Bay.

The union walked out over wage and benefit demands. Both Curtis Bay and McAllister have proposed shifting the crewmen's pay from an hourly to a day rate. The company also would cut overtime, vacation and holiday pay and benefits, and cut crew size from four to three men.

The union estimates the Curtis Bay proposal would cut wages by 60 percent and the McAllister offer would mean a 75 percent reduction.

Cudworth said the union is considering filing unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board. "They have refused to discuss anything other than what they originally put on the table," he said.ENDQUA