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USW - ArcelorMittal talks at 6 month mark

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Exactly half a year ago today, the basic labor agreement between the United Steelworkers and ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel Corporation (USS) expired.

Just before Christmas the USW and USS struck a tentative three-year deal, which membership later ratified by a better than two-to-one margin.

Six months to the day later, however, Steelworkers in ArcelorMittal’s mills are still working under the terms of an expired contract, and while the USW has been saying for some time that progress of a sort is being made, there yet appears to be significant daylight between the union and the company at the negotiating table.

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, in its first communiquŽ in nearly three weeks, the USW renewed its call for solidarity, urged members to remain united, and accused ArcelorMittal of trying to extract concessions from the union for the sake of “‘principle’ alone.”

“We still believe that with our continued unity and solidarity we will achieve our goal,” the USW said. “What we did not anticipate was that ArcelorMittal would be so ‘hell-bent’ on ignoring the real issues and would be so focused on insisting that the employees and the retirees pay for the ‘ills’ of the industry.”

The USW also, however, acknowledged more comprehensively than it yet has the direness of current market conditions and the uncertainty of the domestic industry’s prospects. “We all realize (both management and employees) that the steel industry in the U.S. is currently suffering and continues to experience the negative effects of unfair trade and currency manipulations,” the union said. So “(w)hen we started bargaining, we wanted to approach negotiations with a desire to solve the problems that we share with the company so that we could all succeed together. We knew the company had lost hundreds of millions of dollars since our last negotiations.”

And though the USW is critical of ArcelorMittal’s “financial reporting”--of non-cash liability charges, for instance, which have “more to do with stock price than profit and loss”--the union nevertheless recognizes that ArcelorMIttal USA “still has problems with long-term profitability.” For that reason, when the company initially proposed a contract with no wage increase, the USW countered with “a system of lump-sum payments based on hot-band pricing.” That solution, the union said, “is not a perfect one but, frankly, if pricing does not return to the market, our industry will not recover from the attack of unfair trade in steel.”

Yet Feb. 24’s statement is most notable perhaps for the almost palpable frustration it expresses. Thus, the union said, “we will continue to strive for a positive relationship” with ArcelorMittal. “However, it is clear that management’s past and current attitude has been ‘their way or the highway but neither ‘their way’ nor the ‘highway’ is the right solution.”

More: the company’s “short-term focus and contract demands”--including its “persistent drive to lower our healthcare benefits”--do “nothing to return the company to consistent success and (do) absolutely nothing to address the real problems facing the industry,” the USW said. “In fact, we have come to the realization that although we have offered innovative proposals that will reduce costs, management insists on more cuts just on what appears to be ‘principle’ alone.”

This much has been accomplished, the union added: the company has withdrawn initial demands for major reductions in vacation pay, sickness and accident benefits, and a two-tier wage and healthcare plan for new hires.

These sticking points, on the other hand, remain: ArcelorMittal is still seeking changes in healthcare which would “reduce coverage and increase employee and retiree costs”; and it “continues to insist on eliminating incentives for employees in Labor Grade 1 jobs.”

“(O)ur unity and your solidarity with your Negotiating Committee are still necessary while the struggle for a fair and equitable contract continues,” the USW concluded its communiquŽ. “Management has moved off of some of the meaningless proposals and adjusted some of their more erroneous demands but, as of today, ArcelorMittal is still insisting on demands that will only lower our standard of living and will not be helpful to the long-term stability of the company.”

 

Posted 3/1/2016

 
 
 
 

 

 

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