USW workers came out in force in rallies at ArcelorMittal and US Steel locations across the country last week.
About 3,000 steelworkers marched to the gates of US Steel’s Gary Works in Indiana carrying signs saying “Fair Contract now” and “Mario Got his $15,000,000. Where’s Ours?”
Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor joined other mayors in the region to show support for the steelworkers.
“People on the other side of the bargaining table better take notice because this is one clear voice here today. Every community in this region stands with you.”
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson called for justice for steelworkers.
“When we say justice for all, we mean good health care,” she said. “When we say justice for all, we mean good working conditions. I know you are not here just for yourselves and your co-workers. You are here for working families. When this company created this city, it didn’t do it in the boardroom. It did it on the backs of workers. The only way it will thrive is on the backs of the workers.”
Bill McCall, president of USW Local 1066, focus noted that workers were being asked to make concessions while CEOs received pay raises.
“This contract is really about whether it’s OK for the CEO of U.S. Steel, Mario Longhi, to give himself a 134 percent pay raise,” he said. “In 2014, Mario made $15,211,513. How that that breaks down is $1,507 an hour … This is 33 times the salary of the president of the United States, and 249 times the median income of a U.S. household. So in the time it took me to say this, he made $45.”
Workers at US Steel’s Granite City Works called for workers to “Stand up! Fight back!” USW Local 1899 president Dan Simmons said they are prepared to strike if necessary.
“This is the kind of action out here that scares the hell out of companies,” said Simmons. “They have no problem meeting and talking with a few of the members of the bargaining committee, but when they see active voting members fired up, it scares the hell out of them.”
USW Sub District 2 director Dave Dowling said that discussions between US Steel and the union have been focused on healthcare rather than wages or pensions and so far the proposals are unacceptable.
“It’s a very radical transformation of the benefit structure and a very significant increase in cost of the greatly modified benefits to employees and to retirees.” Dowling added that the companies are taking advantage of industry challenges to push issues beyond what is reasonable.
Workers in Fairfield, who are facing the layoff of 1,100 workers with the closure of the US Steel Fairfield Works blast furnace, joined in the protest movement.
“We’re looking for job security that allows our members to make a good living, good wage,” said Daniel Flippo, director of United Steelworkers District 9.
ArcelorMittal and US Steel say changes need to be made to health benefits. At ArcelorMittal, workers pay no premiums and retirees make only small contributions to health care.
In a series of blogs preceding the beginning of contract negotiations, Andrew Harshaw, CEO of ArcelorMittal USA, noted, “Since 2008, our total labor costs have virtually remained unchanged, exceeding $2 billion per year for five of the last seven years, while average steel selling prices have fallen almost 50 percent during that same period.”
“There is no disputing that we are operating at a labor cost disadvantage compared to our competition, as well as other U.S. manufacturers and private companies, both union and non-union. Status quo is not a sustainable option if we expect to remain viable,” wrote Harshaw.
In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, ArcelorMittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal said, “We should not have a condition of employment worse than our competition. We should not be in an unfair position.”
Management at US Steel and ArcelorMittal are maintaining the policy of not commenting on the ongoing negotiations. Although media reports are skewed toward union workers, there is validity to the need for steelmakers to cut costs to remain competitive globally and domestically.
“The market is really down, so if they want to get something from the union in terms of a reduction in costs, now is the time to do it,” Pittsburgh business professor James Craft told the Pittsburgh Business Times. “Now is the time they are going to lose the least market share and sales if they take the initiative to put pressure on the union.”
Workers at Allegheny Technologies were working under the expired contract during negotiations. When the USW bargaining committee refused to take put managements final contract proposal to a vote the company issued a lockout of more than 2,000 employees.
A recent USW Update said. “There are currently no negotiations scheduled. ATI apparently seems more interested in bussing out-of-state replacement workers into our facilities than they are in bargaining a fair contract with our union.”
According to data by Bloomberg BNA, work stoppages in general have declined but employer-initiated lockouts dramatically outpace strikes.
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