Steelworkers, angered with higher insurance costs, ‘sleight of hand’ with wages, demand steel companies share in profits from new tariffs

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AS STEEL COMPANY PROFITS soar, Steelworkers fighting for a fair contract are offered higher insurance costs, deceptive wage proposal. – Labor Tribune photo

By CARL GREEN

Illinois Correspondent

Leaders of the United Steelworkers said U.S. Steel’s latest contract proposal won’t deliver what the company promises. The union said the proposal would shift health care costs to workers, who would end up paying $145 per month for health and dental care and $2,000 more a year in higher deductibles, drug copayments and coinsurance.

The price of steel jumped by more than 30 percent this year after the U.S. levied tariffs on foreign steel, causing profits to rise for the industry generally.

But union leaders say workers aren’t seeing their compensation rise appropriately at U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal SA, which make up 40 percent of the U.S. production capacity for flat-rolled steel.

DOUBLES DEDUCTIBLES

U.S. Steel originally proposed charging steelworkers $237 a month for medical and dental coverage, which it reduced to $125 a month for medical and $20 per month for dental. The USW has wanted to preserve health care benefits that were hard-won over decades of collective bargaining and said the company’s proposed plan “doubles the deductibles, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximums compared to the current PPO plan.”

“They also say that at the end of the year they’ll reimburse you $125 per month for medical,” the USW said in an update to members. “First, the reimbursement will be treated as income, and you can expect about a 35 percent reduction due to taxes and deductions. Secondly, your coverage is decreased. So every time you use the coverage, you’ll be paying more and they will try to pass all this off as costs covered by the end-of-year reimbursement.”

COMPANY SURPRISED BY ANGER, SOLIDARITY

U.S. Steel and USW returned to the bargaining table in Pittsburgh last week after steelworkers around the country voted to authorize a strike.

“It is becoming clear that the company has been surprised by the level of anger and solidarity you’ve displayed,” the USW said in an update to members.

‘SLEIGHT OF HAND’ BENEFITS, WAGES

U.S. Steel proposed a six-year contract that it says includes a four percent raise next year, five annual two percent raises and $19,000 in “guaranteed pre-tax cash payments,” including a $4,000 signing bonus that would be paid within 30 days. USW told members the proposal offers “worse health care benefits, no new money and sleight of hand with wages.”

The company originally proposed a six-year contract with raises of four percent, three percent, and three percent, followed by three years of one percent pay increases coupled with profit-sharing bonuses that may or may not have ever materialized.

USW also said the proposed bonus of up to $19,000 partly consisted of profit-sharing bonuses steelworkers already earned and partly of a “bribe of $1,500 a year to give up your current health care coverage” in favor of a high-deductible plan that would shift costs from the company to workers.

“First the proposal includes the original $4,000 signing bonus. U.S. Steel then adds the $6,000 of your 3rd- and 4th-quarter profit-sharing payments, this time sliding forward payment,” USW said in an update to members. “As you have figured, you have already earned these payments... Then they try to intimidate and stampede you to accept their deal by including an unrealistic self-imposed deadline of ratification by Sept. 22.”

‘DON’T CUT OUR HEALTHCARE, PAY, RETIREMENT’

Steelworker Lewis Graff said workers face dangerous conditions every day and just want to be paid a fair amount.

“We steelworkers face death, injury and a harsh work environment on a daily basis and do so willingly because we love what we do,” he said. “We just wish the company felt the same way about us. Don’t cut our healthcare. We need that when we can no longer breathe right from ammonia fumes or other harsh chemicals we’re inhaling. Don’t cut our retirement. Most of us have devoted our entire lives to this mill, we would like to enjoy our last few years outside the plant. Don’t cut our pay. We are not the unskilled workers you think us to be. It takes education to run your mills at the capacity they are running.”

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