Hamilton Works Union President “Surprised” by Actions of USS
Rolf Gerstenberger, president of United Steelworkers Local 1005, which represents the union workers at the U.S. Steel Hamilton Works (Canada) spoke with Steel Market Update on Friday. We spoke originally regarding the shutdown of the Hamilton blast furnace (see article above) but the conversation turned to the subject of negotiations between Local 1005 and United States Steel.
Mr. Gerstenberger was in the process of sending SMU an email in response to a number of our questions and he read the email to us prior to sending it:
“Local 1005 USW was notified on September 29, 2010 by US Steel that as of October 4, 2010 they were shutting down the only blast furnace at their Hamilton Works. They claimed it was due to business conditions, a lack of orders. They said that they would not be laying workers off, they would have them do health and safety training and job related training. No time frame was given when the furnace would start up.
There is some speculation that this move is related to the negotiating process. Talks between Local 1005 and US Steel Canada began on May 20, 2010 and continued until July 7, 2010. After settling many issues related to operating the plant efficiently, the union would not agree with the company demands to give up the pension plan for new hires, to give up indexing for the retiree pensions, and other such demands. The company stated at that time that they would get back to the union with another proposal. No such proposal was forthcoming. The next thing we heard they had applied for a conciliator on September 22. With the announcement of the shutting down of the blast furnace it definitely looks like they do not want to negotiate, they just want to dictate contract.”
Mr. Gerstenberger explained the purpose of a conciliator (in the U.S. we tend to use the term “mediator”) in the process of coming to an amicable agreement between the two parties. A conciliator was requested by USS on the 22nd of September and, as of Friday, the Canadian government had not yet selected one for the mediation process.
Once a conciliator has been selected they will most likely meet with both sides with the goal to break the deadlock and get a deal done. If they are unable to break the impasse the conciliator files a report to the Ministry of Labour, who then issues a “No Board” report. At that point the clock starts ticking and after 17 days U.S. Steel can lock the union out of the plant. At this point the union has not taken a vote to strike so the most likely course of action would be up to USS to lock the union out (which is something they did with their sister facility at Lake Erie Works eventually forcing the union to agree to USS terms on pensions for new hires, etc.).
Mr. Gerstenberger told SMU the union was “surprised” by the actions of U.S. Steel when they selected to request a mediator. He told us, “...we were waiting for U.S. Steel to get back to us with another proposal” and had been since July 7th. He was also surprised because USS was willing to “…live without a contract until about a month ago.” It was at that time, according to Mr. Gerstenberger, the U.S. Steel Canadian order book began to fall off.
USW Local 1005 union contract with USS Canada expired at the end of July 2010.
According to a president’s blog on the Local 1005 website posted on September 27, 2010 the union responded to the actions of USS requesting a conciliator. We are printing a portion of their post for our readers:
“U.S. Steel is demanding the destruction of the defined-benefit pension plan for new hires, the elimination of indexing of pensions, the degrading of vacation time, the weakening of cost of living protection for wages and other concessions including attacks on injured workers. It has already unilaterally stopped the indexing of pensions even before a new contract is in place contrary to Canadian law. These concessions if forced on steelworkers would result in more of the wealth produced by us leaving the city and country.
It has become obvious from these outrageous demands and refusal to negotiate that U.S. Steel wants to provoke a negative response, lock out Local 1005 members, shut down the mill, once again fill Hamilton Works’ order book from its U.S. mills and force concessions. This must not pass and will not pass!
U.S. Steel used this brutal tactic before to force concessions from Lake Erie Works’ steelworkers and create a fraudulent cover of a “Labour dispute” to shut down the mill for nine months and ship steel into Canada from its oversupply in the U.S. In this way, U.S. Steel can plead innocent of breaking agreements under the Investment Canada Act to maintain certain employment and production levels.” (Source: www.uswa1005.com you can read full post online)
There is no specific deadline for a “lockout” as the conciliation process could take some time prior to a “No Board” report being filed. Without a conciliator being selected as of this writing SMU would expect it will be at least late October or November before a “No Board” report would be generated.
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