US Steel Hamilton USW 1005 Now in 2nd Week of Lockout
SMU received a phone call from one of the younger workers who belongs to USW Local 1005 which represents the union workers at the U.S. Steel Hamilton Works plant in Canada. The workers at the plant have been locked out for two weeks now – since November 7th – and we are unaware of any progress in the negotiations.
The worker, who asked that his identity not be divulged, complained to SMU that those workers who have opinions other than those supported by the management of Local 1005 were “booed down” when they tried to speak at one of the union meetings.
He told SMU striking workers only receive about $200 per week in strike pay. Otherwise, “everything is cut off” and he is thankful for being in good health since the company ended their health insurance benefits to the locked-out workers.
The union member who contacted us told SMU “Ninety percent (90%) of the members will accept the contract” and he felt any offers made by U.S. Steel would only get worse from here. “We are not in a position to negotiate” he told us.
Union President Blast “so-called industry experts and blogs”
SMU attempted to contact Rolf Gerstenberger who is the union president for USW Local 1005 and we were not successful over the past two days. We did, however, see the union placed a new post on their website specifically blasting “so-called industry experts” and “blogs”. We were not specifically named and we will continue to try to communicate with Mr. Gerstenberger and the union members as an independent observer. Here is what the union had to say in their post earlier this week:
U.S. Steel has been waging a campaign against the workers at Stelco and their union using all the tools in their vast arsenal. This arsenal includes various media personalities, so called “experts”, various “blogs” and on-line professionals, etc., all designed to attack the workers just cause, create doubt about the union and its leadership and create conditions to force the workers to give in to the U.S. Steel dictate.
In a talk show on Thursday morning, the host had a so-called “expert” on from McMaster University DeGroote School of Business. This “expert” presented the “fact” that the reason Local 1005 did not hold a vote on the contract was because the leadership did not care, they would be receiving their regular pay during the lockout, while the 900 workers would be living on $200 a week strike pay. This statement was issued and the rest of the morning was designed to generate a “discussion” about how ndemocratic the union was, especially its “dictatorial” President.
Out of the Mouth of Babes
It was reported in the November 29, 2010 issue of The Hamilton Spectator that “Steve Howse, a self-employed consultant and adjunct professor of business at McMaster University, made the comment on CHML’s Bill Kelly Show Thursday. In talking about the union’s response to hold a vote on U.S. Steel’s final offer, Howse said the only reason members haven’t been allowed to vote is “because people who are drawing a salary as their representatives in this process, who have felt no pain in this process, are saying they don’t want this to go forward. I don’t understand the logic of somebody being paid saying he represents people who are now struggling to buy food.’” The article continues: “In fact, Gerstenberger and the other paid leaders of the union are drawing the same $200 a week strike pay as their members, for the duration. In a phone interview, Howse was surprised by the information. “I was misinformed. Good for them,’ he said. ’I just wasn’t aware of that and won’t refer to it again.” He added he understood that the practice in the CAW was for leaders to continue drawing their pay during a confrontation- but that’s only partly true. Peter Kennedy, the Caw’s secretary-treasurer, said the leaders of a local representing a single work-place would only draw strike pay during a confrontation…”
There are several questions that can be asked here. First of all, why is a Business Professor from the Degroote School of Business being asked to even comment on this? Is this his expertise? And if he didn’t understand the logic for his lie, wouldn’t a normal person investigate first (at a minimum to phone Local 1005 to confirm his “belief”?) And wouldn’t it be incumbent on the radio talk show host to insure that his special guest would speak the truth?
What Are They Trying to Hide?
We now go back to why did the union not hold a vote on the company’s final offer? Local 1005 clarified for anyone who wanted to listen that the union did not hold a strike vote and the union was not going on strike. As far as we were concerned (recognizing the uncertain and difficult economic situation) we could live with a stand pat agreement, and the union had no demands. We told the company that we could live with the contract that they agreed to in 2007 when they purchased Stelco. U.S. Steel responded to this just position by the Union by demanding a whole list of concessions, most of which took over 60 years of struggle to win.
After stalling for several months, U.S. Steel then tabled a proposal on November 2 and demanded that Local 1005 hold a vote on this offer. We quite calmly answered that the union decides when the union will take an offer to the membership, not the company. If the company wanted to force a vote, they have the right to force a vote under the Labour Relations Act. The Company (for unknown reasons) refused to hold a forced vote, but instead threatened the Union with a lockout if the union did not agree two pre-conditions: The Company demanded that the union shaft 9000 pensioners by eliminating their indexing and they demanded that the union agree to shaft the next generation by agreeing that any new workers would not be allowed to enter the pension plan.
What is clear from developments since the lockout on November 7 is that U.S. Steel is pulling out all stops to try to blackmail the works and their union into agreeing to the company demands. On Channel 11 on Friday, November 19, one of the T.V. personalities went hysterical that the union’s action will result in 900 workers losing their jobs! It had to be pointed out to her that it was U.S. Steel that locked the workers out; the workers did not go on strike. U.S. Steel shut the blast furnace in Hamilton on October 4, 2010 and shortly after started two blast furnaces up in the U.S. to make up for the lost production. Her argument reduced itself to “the union better submit to the blackmail” or we are all doomed. And “why are we worried about the pension plan for new hires or the indexing for the 9000 pensioners?”, “the new reality is everyone is losing their pensions!!!!”
It should also be pointed out here that during the Vale Inco strike, a term was coined of “Vale Bloggers”-cyber thugs, waging psychological war on the striking workers and against the community support for the struggle, all the while posing as “concerned citizens” or “community members” who just don’t want their names to be associated with the “opinions” they espouse. And just in case you don’t read the blogs online, some of the local media are quoting the anonymous “opinions”.
For Your Information:
In 2008, out of the 8300 pensioners on the books, about 3000 were making less than $1000 per month. Of this total, 78% were widows. Out of this 3000, about 550 are making less than $500 a month while another 800 are making between $500 and $750 a month.
Most of these pensioners retired before 1990, and at that time the Stelco pension was considered one of the better plans. But what was considered a good plan 25-30 years ago quickly becomes woefully inadequate 25-30 years later, especially if the plan is not indexed.
A pensioner receiving $1000 a month in 1991(the first year of indexing) would not receive $1,366 a month.
Old Age Security (OAS) is presently about $518.00 a month.
It should also be pointed out that many wives in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s did not work, so would not collect CPP. (Source: USW Local 1005)
SMU also attempted to make contact with Trevor Harris who is the U.S. Steel spokesperson in Canada for a comment without success.
Steel Market Update continues to believe our Blog exists to allow opinions to be presented by all sides. We normally do not get involved in a labor dispute and, we want to remind our readers SMU posted a second blog and survey at the request of the Local 1005 union president.
We have shared the link to our Blog, Survey and the results with the union president as well as the steel community which has an interest in the negotiations between US Steel and Local 1005 as well as those who have a vested interest in the debate within the union - vote, or not to vote.
This is a question only the union members can decide for themselves (unless USS calls for a vote through the government - which does not appear will happen any time soon).
SMU is a steel industry newsletter and website which specializes in the flat rolled steel industry. We publish our newsletter three times per week, we try to keep our Blog busy on a daily basis, we also conduct industry workshops, training and conferences. If you would like to learn more about the industry we recommend you register for a free trial to our newsletter which you can do on our website by clicking on the free trial logo.