USW workers received a letter from ArcelorMittal over the Thanksgiving holiday indicating that retiree premium contributions may be increased early next year.
The overall purpose of the letter was to announce the open enrollment period for 2016, but the letter’s language was troubling to members. The USW sent an update reassuring workers that protections and provisions in the negotiated contract, still in place, prevent unilateral changes by the company.
“Based on a careful review by the USW Legal Department, we have informed the company that it cannot change retiree benefits or increase premiums without mutual agreement from our union,” wrote the USW in a membership update.
Health care continues to be a sticking point in negotiations at ArcelorMittal. The USW is holding firm on its resistance to concessions that would reduce insurance cover and increase premiums for USW members and retirees.
“We are not interested in accepting concessions that would lower our standard of living, especially considering that our own health care proposals would save the company millions without disrupting the lives of active or retired Steelworkers and our families,” said the USW.
The union also addressed a final point in the letter sent to employees, “our union cannot foresee any reason why an individual would want to ‘temporarily cancel’ their company-sponsored health insurance.”
Retirees at US Steel received a similar letter from US Steel earlier in the month notifying them three HMO plans will be canceled due to low participation or increased pricing from insurers. Monthly premiums could rise as much as 46 percent by July for Medicare-eligible retirees. The cost for retirees under 65 could triple. The US Steel open enrollment period for health benefits is Dec. 2 to Dec. 16.
“The elimination of the HMOs was not a cost-reduction move,” said U.S. Steel spokeswoman Sarah Cassella. “There were a couple factors, including one provider that was not willing to offer plans because of low enrollment, and others had increased prices making it unaffordable.”
US Steel and ArcelorMittal negotiations have resumed after the holiday break. Steelworkers at the two steel companies are beginning their fourth month of working under terms of the expired contract.
Allegheny Technologies has continued its lockout of the USW workers which began August 15. Approximately 2,200 USW members are out of work at the 12 facilities in six states. A USW update stated that ATI has asked for 146 concessions in its original proposal, most of which were in the final offer presented to employees on August 5 before the lockout.
A federal mediator is working with the company and USW bargaining committee but there has been no progress toward reaching a compromise. The parties last met on Sept. 11 and the USW said it has been in “regular touch” with the mediator to urge him to “try and to move ATI of its “last, best, and final offer.”
As of December 1, union employees at ATI will no longer be covered by the company-paid health insurance. USW International offered catastrophic health insurance to workers which was accepted by about 70 percent of the membership. Employees also have the option of seeking COBRA coverage though the state, which often has high premiums and deductibles, or coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
In the meantime, the USW legal department has filed 18 Unfair Labor Practice Charges (ULPs) with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which are currently under investigation.
Cliffs Natural Resources
Bargaining has stalled at Cliffs Natural Resources and a timetable has not been set for negotiations to begin again.
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