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USW rejects US Steel's push for flat wages in contract talks

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The United Steelworkers is saying that time still remains to negotiate a new contract with U.S. Steel Corporation (USS) before the current agreement expires on Sept. 1.

But in a communiquŽ released to membership on Wednesday, the union is adamant that management’s desire to keep wages “flat” is a non-starter, in particular given the fact that executive compensation programs over the last three years awarded top officers bonuses even as the company was losing money.

The union also warned membership not to be fooled by a publicity campaign launched by management, not to be frightened by mutterings of the next “trough,” and not to forget who in fact was lining up at the trough after members agreed in the last contract to forgo wage increases.

First, brass tacks: much work remains to be done but there is time to do it in. “While we are making progress on some local issues and main agreement pieces, we have not yet had any serious discussions about economics such as wages, pensions, healthcare, and other benefits or profit-sharing,” USW said. “Those issues aren’t typically resolved until the final days of the negotiations. Our contract expires at midnight on Sept. 1, so there is ample time to get that work done.”

Flat Wages, Sacrifices and Self-Enrichment

Still, USS in its opening presentation to the union “focused heavily on the idea of keeping their wages costs flat and instead rewarding your efforts with variable lump sum payments based on the company’s financial performance.”

Flat wages might have been prudent three years ago, USW said, in light of “the dire financial condition of the industry and the company.” But that was then and this is now. “We went through a three-year contract without a wage increase. We believe that approach made sense back then, but these are very different times and that approach doesn’t make sense today.”

“The frustration with their proposed idea is further increased by the behavior of the management, who revised their compensation programs and gave themselves significant bonuses during the past three years while the company continued to lose money and after we froze our wages,” USW said. “For many reasons, both the industry and the company are projected to do well financially over the coming months and years, and we have every right to expect to share in that prosperity.”

Company Misinformation

Meanwhile, USW said, USS is marshaling its consultants and appears “to have formed a communication team in an effort to convince the hourly work force that their proposals on flat wage costs are essential to the company.”

Members, accordingly, should see through management’s attempts to manipulate them. “Their top leadership is making ‘robo-calls,’ holding ‘town-hall meetings,’ and will be pushing their ideas in the coming weeks as they try to gain the ‘hearts and minds’ of the workforce,” USW said. “There will be a lot of talk about ‘alignment’ of goals with the boss’s new bonus plans and talk about cost reductions when times are lean in the industry and we go through the next ‘trough.’ We expect they will mount a significant campaign around these topics in the weeks ahead.”

“While the union has been sensitive to the industry and USS in particular, we don’t accept this approach as valid or fair, and we are reminded of their behavior during the past few years,” USW added. “This is another empty promise with a sale pitch attached to it.”

Double Standard at the Trough

The union had one more thing to say about the last three years. “When the company was losing money and going through the ‘trough,’ the only ones lining up at a ‘trough’ were USS management feeding themselves and wagging their curly tails.”

“The banks holding your mortgages and car notes or the schools looking for tuition payments for your kids aren’t going to accept your telling them that you’ll pay them ‘when things get better,’” USW said. “While the top management may like the idea of big annual bonus payments, our lives and finances aren’t structured the same way. We have monthly and daily expenses and deserve wage increases commensurate with the productivity increases we have helped to bring about at USS.”

 

 

 

Posted 8/10/2018

 
 
 
 

 

 

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