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Scheduled break begins today in USW talks with ArcelorMittal

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Going into a scheduled break in contract talks, starting today, the United Steelworkers is expressing almost--if not quite--a camaraderie with ArcelorMittal’s non-represented employees in middle management, whose medical expenses effective Jan. 1 will be covered through an “awful Consumer Drive Health Plan.”

That move, according to a communique released today by the union, is one more way in which the company is trying to leverage the ongoing slump in the steel market to force concessions on its workers.

“We all know that the steel industry in the U.S. is suffering the effects of unfair trade and we will continue to fight to stop subsidized and illegally imported foreign products from flooding the domestic market, creating downward pressure on prices and disruptions throughout the supply chain,” the USW said.

“However, ArcelorMittal’s contract demands--including the company’s persistent drive to lower our benefits, demand premiums from active Steelworkers and increase premiums on retirees--does absolutely nothing to address the real problems facing the industry,” the union said. “In fact, we have offered innovative proposals that will reduce their costs but they demand more cuts just on ‘principle’ alone.”

A case in point, the USW said: ArcelorMittal’s “short-sighted attempt to cut costs only for the sake of cutting costs,” by forcing “at will and non-represented” salaried employees--who “have no recourse to resist or fight back”--into a Consumer Driven Health Plan.

“Obviously, while we do not always see ‘eye to eye’ with middle management, we generally live in the same neighborhoods,” the union said. “Our children go to the same schools, and at the end of the day it’s just another attack on the middle-class standard of living of many families.”

As the membership enters the holiday season without a new contract--two months and six days after the old one expired--the USW stressed again the need for solidarity. “As we have said many times, our ability to resist ArcelorMittal’s unfair and unnecessary demands and our power at the bargaining table flows directly from the solidarity and support of our membership,” the union said.

“We understand that the slow pace of these talks is frustrating for many USW members and retirees, but our faith in the collective bargaining process remains unshaken,” the union added.

Meanwhile, on Monday, ArcelorMittal released its first statement in weeks on the status of negotiations. The company’s goal, according to that statement: the same as the union’s: “a fair contract that continues to provide our workers and their families with excellent benefits while allowing the company to successfully compete in a global market,” the statement said.

“While the details about negotiations remains confidential, we concur with the union that employee benefits, particularly health care, remain our focus,” the company noted. “We recognize that the ongoing negotiations process creates uncertainty and concern for our employees and stakeholders, and we extend to you our appreciation for your patience and commitment. We remind everyone that we, along with our partners at the United Steelworkers, are committed to reaching a fair agreement without a work stoppage or strike.”

The Consumer Driven

Health Plan

Consumer driven health plans (CDHP) differ widely but they tend to have this in common: a health savings or reimbursement account controlled by the employees themselves--and used to pay routine medical costs-- in conjunction with high-deductible health coverage intended to protect the employees from catastrophic illnesses.

On Tuesday, ArcelorMittal USA Flat Carbon President and CEO Andy Harshaw defended the move to a CDHP by citing two “contributing factors.”

The first: the Affordable Healthcare Act’s so-called “Cadillac tax” intended to penalize employers who provide comprehensive low-deductible plans to employees. Those plans, Harshaw said, “encourage overuse of the health-care system” and the Cadillac tax--which “could cost ArcelorMittal USA thousands of dollars per employee, paid to the government with no benefit for our employees”--is intended to force employers to do what ArcelorMittal did: dump comprehensive low-deductible plans.

The second contributing factor in the company’s decision: “the significant challenge the industry is currently facing and the expectation that these challenges will remain for the foreseeable future.” Adapt or perish, Harshaw stated baldly: “Our industry has changed and we must change along with it or risk our company’s future as well as the collective future of our employees and our communities.”

The USW, for its part, rejected Harshaw’s reasoning in its statement today. For one thing, the Cadillac tax “will not even take effect until 2018, if ever.”

For another, the union said, it’s unlikely the Cadillac tax would ever apply to the company, given the threshold at which its triggered: employer-provided plans with an annual cost of more than $10,200 for single coverage and more than $27,500 for family coverage.

“The USW healthcare plans are below the threshold, so we doubt the salary plans are more expensive,” the union said. “However, we recognize the non-represented salary employees have their compensation plans and we have ours. In any event, the cuts to the salary benefits plans are unnecessary and unfortunate in terms of real sustainability for the company.”

 

Posted 11/6/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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