Steel Mills

US Steel Lake Erie Works Vote Set for Friday

Written by Sandy Williams

United Steelworkers (USW) Local 8782 is due to vote on a contract proposal on Friday that may end the long standoff between U.S. Steel and union employees at Lake Erie Works.

Union members at Lake Erie Works have been locked out since April 28 after rejecting at that time a second and final contract offer by U.S. Steel. Since then, union members have been turned down for employment insurance by the Canadian government and three more contract proposals have been rejected: US Steel dismissed a Union proposal on May 24, members voted against a US Steel proposed contract on July 9 and most recently the workers rejected a U.S. Steel proposal in a forced Ministry of Labour supervised vote on July 31.

US Steel offered another contact on August 7 that was the basis for negotiations in Pittsburgh last week pushed along by pressure from the international headquarters of the USW.  On August 28 the Union negotiating committee presented the negotiated contract to union membership without providing an endorsement.  

“There have been some moves by the company,” said union president Bill Ferguson. “We don’t recommend this, but we’re taking it to the members because we are not going to make unilateral decisions that affect the lives of 1,000 people.”

Although the media has been reporting that the membership is not happy with the newest proposal and is likely to reject it, Facebook comments say otherwise.  There appears to be both resignation and hope being expressed by employees on the social media site.  The general feeling seems to be that it is time to go back to work and the contract is as good as it is going to get—a contrast to the steadfast support for union officials seen early in the lock-out.

The proposed contract restores a $2500 signing bonus and adds language protecting workers from having their jobs contracted out. Lump sum payments of $500 will be paid for each year of a five year term. There is no base wage hike and keeps in an updated cost of living adjustment that does not kick in until inflation reaches 3 percent. The co-payment for prescription drugs will not be increased. Vacation time is restricted to five weeks for current and future employees except for those workers who already have more than five weeks.  In addition, workers will participate in a profit sharing plan that would pay workers a maximum of $3,500 if the plant profits exceed $25 million.

The average wage at Lake Erie Works is $65,000 per year and US Steel maintains that the high-cost Canadian plant is not in line with U.S. facilities. U.S. Steel has not made a profit in five of the past seven quarters, reporting a $78 million loss in Q2 2013.  

The prolonged lock-out has taken Lake Erie’s annual capacity of 2.9 million tons out of the market and contributed heavily to the decline in operating profit for the second quarter to $47 million.

U.S. Steel has a history of labor disputes at its Canadian plants including locking out Lake Erie plant workers for eight months in 2009-2010 and Hamilton workers in 2010-2011.

If Union Accepts Contract Proposal

According to information posted on the USW Local 8782 website on August 28th, the coke ovens would not be restarted right away as there is excess coke on the ground at both Lake Erie and Hamilton.  The union advised their members it could be six to eight months before the ovens resume operations.

The blast furnace would be restarted and is estimated to take three weeks to finish the reline of the furnace a begin production.

The hot strip mill would resume operations as quickly as possible.

The pickle line is in operation as another union represents those workers.  The Lake Erie Works facility does not have a cold mill or coating lines.  Those are located at their sister facility, Hamilton Works.

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