A strike at NLMK Pennsylvania turned ugly last week when a news reporter was thrown into the street by picketers while trying to take photos. While likely a one-off incident, the confrontation highlights the tension among workers trying to negotiate a contract during a time of economic uncertainty.
“We understand emotions can run high on a picket line,” said Jeffery Gerritt, editor of the local Herald newspaper, Sunday night. “But if anything like this happens again, we will press charges and do whatever else is necessary to protect our employees.”
The strike at NLMK’s Farrell, Pa., mill, which began Aug. 22, is based on resistance to healthcare changes that the USW says are “undesirable.” NLMK is proposing a “small monthly increase” to the current PPO plan that would increase premiums for employees and be “more suitable to today’s industrial environment.”
“The PPO today, which is considered to be a premier level plan, costs a family only $185 per month in premiums for basically 100 percent coverage of all medical cost plus a small office visit copay. The increases that we have proposed would still be well below the market averages for similar PPO plans with similar coverages,” said NLMK in a statement released to the press on Wednesday afternoon.
NLMK is also offering an alternative high deductible healthcare plan that has no premium payments and includes a healthcare savings account funded by NLMK in the amount of $2,350 for the first three years of the contract and $1,550 for the fourth.
“Between receiving NLMK’s healthcare savings account contributions and not paying premiums, the employees will absolutely pay less for the healthcare for their families than they do today under their current plan,” states NMLK.
The company also addressed what it called a “slur campaign” by USW leadership. The union has accused NLMK of discontinuing healthcare coverage for families of deceased employees, using a recent death as a rallying point for the strike.
“The contention of the USW leadership that NLMK has chosen to ignore a provision in our labor agreement to the detriment of widows and orphans is a blatant lie,” said NLMK management.
NLMK also refuted claims that it is ignoring employee concerns due the expiration of the current contract. “We have continued to accept grievances sent to us even without a labor contract and have opted to address the concerns raised with the USW leadership,” responded NLMK. “Any implication made by the USW leadership that we are ignoring the concerns raised by our employees is another example of their continued efforts to deceive the public and our employees.”
NLMK also noted that claims made by USW leadership that the company is interrogating employees about union activity “has absolutely no basis in reality.”
The NLMK statement concluded, “NLMK remains available to continue to bargain in good faith in order to reach a collective bargaining agreement. The fact that we do not agree with the proposals raised by the USW leadership does not mean that we have broken the law as they proclaim.”
The USW District 10 Director did not respond to a request for comment.
NLMK USA, which includes facilities in Indiana and Pennsylvania, saw revenue and shipments plummet in the second quarter due to pricing and demand impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. NLMK Group expects the USA division to break even or be slightly negative in the second half of the year.
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