East Alton – Across the nation, Steelworkers and their industry are holding their collective breath while the big companies try to negotiate new contracts with the United Steelworkers.
The Metro East is on the front lines, with some 2,000 workers at Granite City Steel. But at the same time, another tough round of bargaining has been going on nearby at Alton Steel, where about 250 workers are working under a 24-hour notice agreement for a strike or lockout. Talks started Aug. 3, the contract expired on Sept. 20, and workers held informational picketing on Sept. 25.
Terry Wooden, president of USW Local 3643, told the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor the company has tried to use the same market-conditions argument that the national companies have been making to win concessions. But Alton Steel is a niche manufacturer that has performed well, he said.
“Over the last four years of this agreement, they’ve had record profitability and record production,” Wooden said. “They want no raises of any kind for three years in a three-year contract, no contribution raises to our steelworkers pension trust, and they basically don’t want to give us anything. It’s the biggest concessionary package I’ve seen at the table.”
The biggest issue, as at the larger companies, is the cost of health care, Wooden said.
“We costed out the health care proposal they have in front of us, and it would cost our members, based on usage, between a dollar and two dollars an hour off our hourly rate,” he said.
Negotiations have been difficult, he said, in part because the company keeps rescheduling and canceling meetings.
“I really don’t think they’ve got it through their heads that this membership is ready to strike,” Wooden said. “We’re sticking together, but we’ve got a rough row to hoe. The package they’ve got on the table is totally unacceptable.”
The company is known for other reasons, such as cordial labor relations and community benefits and support, but that good will has not been evident in these negotiations, Wooden said.
“It’s not a national company. It’s locally owned and a niche market – a good little place to work. Everybody enjoyed it for the first 10 years or so.
“Now it’s like flipping a switch. They made all this money in the last four years. To me it looks like pure greed, plain and simple.”
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