The vote could mean it may only be a matter of days before the 109-year-old glass-bottle production plant is forced to begin shutting down, according to the court-appointed receiver running the Shaler-based company.
But Margaret Good, president of the Meridian Group, and Lou Brudnock, president of Local 134 of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union, expressed hope that something could be done to save the company, which has been owned for the past 16 years by O'Hara Township businessman John Ghaznavi. Good's comments were made before the result of the voting was known.
"The vote was close, so I'm optimistic that we can still work something out," said Brudnock, whose local represents about 210 production workers.
Another 11 workers represented by the United Steelworkers of America voted to accept the changes, which would have reduced wages and benefits in the range of 20 percent, said Jim Watt, staff representative for the union.
Workers were given details of the proposed contract changes at a series of meetings at Moose Lodge 46 in Shaler throughout the day yesterday.
Brudnock said union leaders did not recommend rejection of the proposed cutbacks. "We just presented the facts to the members," he said.
He said one of the major complaints of union members was that the Meridian Group said the reductions would not affect salaried worker at the plant.
"I was told that swayed a lot of votes," Brudnock said.
"We still will put together a plan for possible sale," said Good. She said at least three buyers have expressed interest in the plant. "We didn't ask the employees for concessions directly. We first asked the unions if they felt this makes sense to them ... and we put together numbers that we felt we needed just to get through a short period of time."
She said union leaders restructured some of Meridan's proposals in a way they felt would be more acceptable to the workers.
The wage and benefit reductions were one of the key elements of a five-point "survival" plan outlined to employees by Good and other represenatives of the Meridan Group yesterday.
The first step was implemented Friday with reduction for salaried and general administrative cost savings, achieved through the layoff of 15 non-union and management employees, Good said.
A second element is the hoped-for savings from the union concessions sought yesterday, and a third focuses on other steps to build positive cash flow during the next four months -- for example, increasing operating efficiencies or streamlining purchasing procedures.
The fourth step is to try and raise an additional $800,000 in capital needed to put back into operation a glass furnace damaged in the September flooding.
"And most importantly, the fifth step is that we want to find a buyer," Good said.
"I don't like it; I think they are asking too much," said Andy Henn, of Verona, a 27-year employee at the plant, who said he voted against the concessions.
His comments were echoed by Mark Musante, of Washington, a 13-year employee, as he emerged from one of the union's meetings early yesterday afternoon. He estimated that the contract changes will likely reduce his pay and benefits by about 25 percent, including about $2.50 an hour in wages.
Bruce Chase, a former Glenshaw Glass worker now on a disability pension because of heart problems, said he hopes the plant can be saved.
"It would be a very difficult situation for us," said Chase, who was waiting for his wife, Sandy, who works in the plant's packing department, to emerge from the union meeting.
Chase said it would be especially hard for the couple to make ends meet if she loses her job, and the health benefits that are currently covered by the company's benefits plan.
"It's hard enough now," he said.