Nineteen striking office workers at a Teamsters Union trust fund here charged yesterday that they were fired from their jobs after ignoring a deadline to report to work yesterday morning or have other workers brought in to fill their jobs.
The workers at the Teamsters Local 639 Employes Trust Fund went out on strike Tuesday after negotiations over wages broke down with officials of the fund.
Jim Sheridan, president of the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2, the union representing the striking workers, said officials of the Teamsters fund sent each employe a Mailgram on Wednesday informing each worker that if he or she did not report to work yesterday, he or she "would be replaced."
"It's my understanding that when you strike, you have quit your job," said Daniel George, president of Teamsters Local 639 and chairman of the board of trustees of the trust fund. While he said he was not specifically familiar with the Mailgram sent the workers and objected to the use of the word "fired," he added, "I would assume that in effect it would say they have been replaced.
"I face this every time I take my people out on strike," the Teamsters Union leader said. "People get to the point where they say, 'My operation has got to run.'" The trust fund office processes and pays health and pension claims for aobut 5,000 workers.
Office workers who answered the telephones at the trust fund's office at 1030 15th St. NW yesterday refused to comment on the striking workers' charges. George refused any further comment, saying that he did not want to conduct negotiations in the press.
The trust fund, according to Sheridan, was set up two years ago by Local 639 and the employers -- such as Giant Food and United Parcel Service -- with which the union has contracts.
He said the office workers began organizing last October, and that the OPEIU won an election to be recognized as the bargaining agent for the workers. Negotiations as a first-ever contract for the workers began in December, he said.
Sheridan said the workers are seeking "substantial" pay increases of 20 percent this year, 15 percent next year and 12.5 percent the following year. However, he said the workers have agreed to a decrease in the amount the Teamsters would have to pay into a health and pension trust fund for each of the office workers, which would effectively decrease the raises to 8.6 percent, 3.6 percent and 1.1 percent.
He said the administrators of the turst fund offered raises of 11, 9 and 8 percent over the next three years, but are insisting on the reduction in trust fund contributions as well, severely cutting back the net increase.
Sheridan said the average hourly wage of the workers at the trust fund is currently $5.48 an hour. "There are full-time employes there making $8,200 a year," he said. The work force is primarily young and female, he said, and many of the women have children to support by themselves.