Steel Mills

September Deadline for USW Contracts Draws Near

Written by Sandy Williams

Labor agreements for United Steelworkers at ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel are set to expire on Sept. 1, but union officials say there has been “little progress on core issues.”

In its Aug. 17 update to members, the USW wrote: “Negotiations continued with ArcelorMittal this week in Pittsburgh, and as has been the case since our talks began, management continues to be slow to respond to our proposals, while insisting on unnecessary and unreasonable concessions–particularly in the area of healthcare.

“We have made little progress with regard to our reasonable wage requests, and the company still has not responded to our pension proposal or adequately addressed our concerns about future capital expenditures, the apparently diminishing emphasis on repair and maintenance spending, and manning issues, all of which are geared toward improving the long-term security of our jobs.

“ArcelorMittal has done very well from a financial standpoint, and should continue to enjoy favorable market conditions for the foreseeable future, according to nearly every credible economic forecast.

“Management likes to talk about the ‘viability’ and ‘sustainability’ of the corporation, but our negotiations are about much more than ensuring profits for the company.”

ArcelorMittal USA has asked employees to consider a number of concessions, including to healthcare, pensions and vacation pay. The company says it needs to bring costs in line with other U.S. competitors.

“ArcelorMittal USA must achieve parity with other integrated steel producers, minimills and competing material producers,” ArcelorMittal USA President and CEO John Brett said during the kickoff of negotiations. “While we’ve optimized our assets, invested hundreds of millions in (capital expenditures), and been successful at achieving our Action 2020 targets so far, our business here in the United States is still not cost competitive in comparison to other U.S. producers.”

In an announcement on Aug. 14, ArcelorMittal USA announced a $3.59 per hour profit sharing payout to USW employees but cautioned that steelmaking is a cyclical business. Recent changes in purchasing by key market segments may be indicative of a downward change in market supply, said Brett.

“We need to work safely, focusing on reliability and cost to ensure that we are sustainable through the highs (e.g. current market conditions) and the lows (e.g. 2009) of our cyclical business, while delivering a quality product on time to satisfy our customers,” added Brett.

The USW negotiating committee said it seeks a “fair contract that improves the economic and retirement security of our membership and retirees along with the viability and sustainability of our lifestyles and our communities.”

Negotiations between the USW and U.S. Steel are also ongoing with union members pushing for wage increases that they agreed to forego during the last contract negotiations. Union negotiators rejected a healthcare proposal from U.S. Steel, stating: “USS made a proposal today to cut retiree healthcare benefits, yet their executives feed at the trough. This is unfair and unacceptable!”

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