Chesterton Tribune



USW and US Steel reach tentative contract

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The United Steelworkers spent much of the fall--nearly two months of it--on break from the negotiating table, after reaching an impasse in contract talks with U.S. Steel Corporation.

Last week the union’s negotiating committee returned to Pittsburgh to resume those talks, however, after receiving from the company a “comprehensive contract proposal.” At the time the USW promised to “review this proposal in good faith and then consider what our next steps should be.”

Evidently those “next steps” were quick and easy ones, because on Saturday the union announced that it’s reached a “tentative agreement” with USS on a new three-year contract, covering more than 18,000 Steelworkers at 26 locals across the country.

The USW is calling the document “a major step forward from the position we found ourselves in earlier this summer when we were facing relentless company demands for deep and permanent concessions.” How exactly it’s an improvement wasn’t immediately clear--“It would be nearly impossible to summarize the details of such a broad agreement in an update like this,” the union noted--but “over the coming days and week we will be preparing detailed summaries of the proposed contract.”

The proposed contract is subject to ratification by all USS locals.

It could hardly have been a worse time for the union and company to be in negotiations. The year opened with a series of WARN notifications of possible or impending plants idlings or closures, impacting many thousands of USS employees, as plummeting oil prices left the company no one to sell its “oil-country tubular goods” to--what had been a highly profitable segment of the business--and floods of cheap foreign steel cut deeply into USS market share.

A very large portion of those imports, moreover, has been unfairly or illegally traded, according to both the company and the union.

It was the USW’s contention, almost from the beginning of the contract talks, that USS was trying to use these temporary conditions as a way of wringing permanent concessions from the membership: “major cuts in pay and benefits, along with changes to work rules and other concessions that could have cost workers and their families thousands of dollars per year.”

The USW, for its part, while acknowledging the downturn, was determined not to lose what it took the membership half a century to achieve. “As you know, our industry is in the midst of a crisis,” the union said on Saturday. “But we have been determined not to be forced to pay the full price for the problems of unfair trade and global overcapacity. Our goal throughout this process was to make sure we were not made scapegoats for what are global and, we believe, temporary, problems.”

Members at both USS and ArcelorMittal have been working without a new contract since Sept. 1, when the old one expired and the union agreed to work and talk. There has never been any serious discussion, at least in public, of a strike. USS, for its part, has refused to comment at all on negotiations.

“(K)nowing that we have the solidarity and strength of the membership behind us made all the difference as we attempted to stand up to the company’s most onerous demands,” the USW added.

“This has been a difficult year and a difficult round of bargaining, but I am proud of the way the brothers and sisters of the USW stood up and demanded fair treatment,” USW International President Leo Gerard said.

“We are pleased that we have reached a tentative agreement in the best interests of our company, our stakeholders, and our employees,” USS President and CEO Mario Longhi said in a separate statement released on Saturday. “We believe this competitive three-year contract supports the mutual success we have had with the USW in pursuing our Carnegie Way efforts and confronting unfair trade that is significantly impacting our industry.”

“As we move on from a difficult round of bargaining, we look forward to building on this collaborative relationship with the company to address the problems that have led to this crisis,” USW District 7 Director Mike Millsap.


It’s unclear what impact the proposed contract will have on the union’s ongoing negotiations with ArcelorMittal. Those talks are over for the year and will resume after the holidays, on Monday, Jan. 4.

In a statement released on Friday, the USW said that “some progress” has been made but “the major issues still remain unresolved.” The latter include a number of changes to healthcare benefits which the company is pursuing, among them requiring a monthly premium for active employees and an increase in the premium for retirees. The company also wants to reduce vacation pay and incentive coverage and has so far refused to consider a ratification bonus, the union said.

“We have offered the company a series of solutions that would reduce the fixed cost of making steel and reduce labor costs while maintaining our economic security, our standards of living, and protect the healthcare benefits of both active and retired employees--including future retirees,” the USW said. “Unfortunately, the company has ignored our good faith efforts and demanded concessions that far exceed their needs.”



Posted 12/21/2015




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