Chesterton Tribune



Arbitrator to hear Local 6787 safety grievance; steelmaking down at Burns Harbor plant

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Iron and steelmaking operations at ArcelorMittal USA’s Burns Harbor facility are down, after 10 members of United Steelworkers Local 6787Ñconcerned that a new automated control system installed by the company at the BOF and continuous castor is putting them at riskÑfiled a safety grievance.

That grievance is scheduled to be heard by an arbitrator on Friday, Local 6787 President Paul Gipson told the Chesterton Tribune after deadline on Wednesday.

In the meantime, one blast furnace is down, another has been banked, and both the basic oxygen furnace and continuous castor are down as well.

At issue is a new software systems which “to a large degree makes the steel-making process more efficient,” Gipson said. “There’s no question about that.”

So efficient, in any case, that ArcelorMittal has reduced the number of workers servicing the continuous castor. At one time, as recently as five years ago, Gipson said, there were five members assigned to the continuous castor. That number was gradually reduced to threeÑtwo strand techs and a castor assistantÑand now the company has cut those three to two.

The reduction, however, subsequently prompted 10 Local 6787 members to file a safety grievance per the collective bargaining agreement, under the terms of which any member who “thinks a working condition is unsafe may step down and be re-assigned.”

ArcelorMittal did not, however, re-assign the 10, Gipson said. The company merely sent them home.

Though Gipson doesn’t question the efficiency of the control software, he is in some doubt whether it would actually do what the company says it’s designed to do, should it detect a malfunction or anomaly: that is, “automatically shut it down.”

“Water and steel don’t mix,” Gipson noted. “A pinhole leak allowing water into the hot steel would cause an explosion. A hydraulic leak might or might not. The union’s position is that the company hasn’t given the software a long enough trial period. It is safe or not to have only two strand techs? There are so many things that could go wrong. In our opinion, the company has created an unsafe situation.”

On Friday, an arbitrator selected from a panel in Washington, D.C., will hear the grievance and make a ruling. “If we win the arbitration, the company must pay back the 10 workers the money they’ve lost,” Gipson said.

“But the arbitrator’s decision is final and binding,” Gipson emphasized. “If it goes against us, the members can’t refuse to work.”

On Wednesday, an ArcelorMittal spokesperson told the Tribune that, though the new automated control system will not result in a reduction of the workforce, it will reduce the “amount of overtime required to meet demand.”


Posted 4/25/2013