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Steelworkers contract expires September 1; union tells members' strike/lockout rights

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Late last week the United Steelworkers (USW) was reporting “modest progress” in contract negotiations with U.S. Steel Corporation (USS). This week, with the window rapidly closing on the opportunity to reach a deal before the Sept. 1 deadline, the union was saying that the company “continued its attempts to take advantage of the current industry crisis” by forcing concessions on the membership.

Meanwhile, the USW was waiting for ArcelorMittal to respond to “a complete and comprehensive contract proposal” submitted last week. And while the union was keeping the negotiating committee “available to meet for further discussions,” it was also preparing members for the possibility of an impasse, with an FAQ entitled “What Could Happen Sept. 1?”

Re: U.S. Steel

The USW was at least able to say, in its most recent communiquŽ, released on Wednesday, that the union’s bargaining subcommittees have been meeting “regularly” this week with USS reps.

But the company was still pursuing “unrealistic, long-term changes to our contract that would negatively affect active employees, retirees, and their families,” the USW said. “These would include dramatic increases in active and retiree healthcare costs as well as changes to contract language covering hours, overtime, and contracting out, among other concessions.”

The union’s negotiating committee, for its part, “remained committed to a realistic, fair settlement that will position the company for future success while protecting the decades of progress we have made at the bargaining table, progress that has built the middle class in our communities,” the USW said.

“We’re ready and willing to keep talking and keep working for as long as it take to reach a fair agreement,” USW International Vice-President Tom Conway said.

The union, however, has already scheduled a “massive solidarity event” for Tuesday, Sept. 1, in the event of a failure to negotiate a new contract. In Northwest Indiana members are being asked to rally at the Local 6787 hall on Ind. 149 at 3:30 p.m., to show both USS and ArcelorMittal “that we will not turn back the clock.”

Re: ArcelorMittal

As of Friday, ArcelorMittal had not yet responded to the union’s contract proposal, submitted earlier in the week, which the USW said “would meet the needs of our members and retirees while saving the company millions in short-term expense and long-term liabilities.”

The union did level the same accusation at ArcelorMittal, as it has at USS: that is, of using “the current downturn in the market as an excuse to reverse generations of collective bargaining progress.”

Should midnight Monday, Aug. 31, come and go without a new agreement’s being inked, four things could happen, the USW noted in a separate FAQ released on Aug. 18: the union and company could agree to extend the contract while bargaining continues; the union could strike; it could work without a contract; or the company could implement a lockout.

The USW wants its membership to know the following:

* The “right to strike is protected by law” and an employee may not be fired for participating in a strike (misconduct on the picket line is another matter entirely). But the company, in the case of an “economic strike”--as opposed to an “unfair labor practice strike”--may “hire permanent replacements who do not have to be discharged at the end of the strike.” Even so, a permanently replaced striker “remains an employee of the company and retains the perpetual right to be recalled to his job when it becomes available.”

* A probationary employee has the same right to strike as any other employee and does not place his job in jeopardy by honoring the picket line.

* In the case of a lockout, the company may hire only temporary replacements, to be discharged at the end of the lockout. By the same token, the company may not allow any member of the bargaining unit to continue to work during the lockout; doing so would be illegal.

* “For more than 40 years, the Steelworkers International Strike and Defense Fund (SDF) has provided support for USW members during strikes and lockouts,” the union noted. The SDF pays a union local $200 per week per member, beginning in the fourth week of a strike or lockout, but that weekly allowance is “distributed on the basis of individual need,” which is determined by a committee appointed by the local “to assess needs and distribute money.”

* “The key to winning a strike or lockout is maintaining the solidarity of everyone,” the union said. “Different people have different economic circumstances and the idea is that we all work together to support each other.” Members are encouraged to find temporary employment during the strike or lockout “as a great way to minimize the financial hardship” as well as to make “more money available for union members who have not found other work.”

* In the event of a strike or lockout, the union’s insurance agreement with ArcelorMittal provides that healthcare coverage--with the exception of S&A coverage--will “be continued for 150 days from the date the parties fail to reach an agreement,” with the premiums paid by the company. Members receiving S&A, worker’s compensation, or FMLA benefits when the strike begins would continue to receive those benefits during the strike.

* A member who’d planned to retire during the strike will be entitled to the same pension benefits earned up to the date of retirement. But if he retires prior to the effective date of a new agreement, he may not be eligible for enhanced pension benefits--if any--provided by that agreement. A member, however, cannot avoid any increase in retiree contributions or any reduction in healthcare benefits by retiring now or during the strike.

“This is a challenging time for us and our families,” the union said. “The uncertainty of the bargaining process, especially in the face of concessionary proposals from ArcelorMittal, can be incredibly stressful. But our union has faced serious fights throughout our history and we’ve always fought back. We have won by standing together, supporting each other, and remaining disciplined.”

 

Posted 8/27/2015

 
 
 
 

 

 

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