Contract talks outlined at luncheon
By CARL GREEN
Granite City – U.S. Steel, while still in the process of re-opening the blast furnaces at its Granite City plant, is already back to playing hardball at the bargaining table, USW retirees were told recently at the annual Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) awards luncheon.
Local 1899 President Dan Simmons was named the Ed Sadlowski Labor Leader of the Year.
Jason Chism, a USW staff member and former president of Local 50, accepted the award on behalf of Simmons, who was in Pittsburgh for contract negotiations with U.S. Steel.
The other awards and honorees were:
• Activist of the Year – SOAR member Doug May.
• Friend of SOAR – Belleville attorney and former Congressional candidate C.J. Baricevic.
• Volunteers of the Year – Rick and Vicki Schaus and Jim and Lindy Hellrung.
The awards were presented by SOAR Chapter 7-34-2, which represents steel retirees in the Metro East.
Chism told the retirees that U.S. Steel is already looking to roll back wages and benefits in talks for a new contract.
“It’s an interesting roller coaster ride that’s been going on over the last two years – from the lowest of times until now, with the prosperity of opening the mill back up with a lot of people’s hard work. We’re back in Pittsburgh at a contract negotiation and the company wants to do drastic things to our benefits and our wage packages,” Chism said.
“It’s gut wrenching. If you watched what US Steel was doing as we were idled with the lights turned off in Granite City, they had no problem paying their CEO and their main people 30 and 40 percent bonuses as they left the company and left us in dire straits,” Chism added.
“Now we’re left to pick up the pieces, and we have a lot of major things on the table, and they’re wanting us to actually take concessions on wage packages, Even though it’s fantastic news getting the mill started, we find ourselves right back in a desperate situation, and we hope we can find light at the end of the tunnel again.”
LABOR LEADER OF THE YEAR
The SOAR chapter last year began using its Labor Leader of the Year award to honor Sadlowski, a union leader who rose up from the rank-and-file, brought lasting democratic changes to the union and almost was elected president against the union leadership’s opposition.
Dennis Barker, the chapter vice president, noted that he and Dan Simmons were among the grievance chairmen in the five locals that merged in 2003 to create Local 1899. Simmons at that time became the full-time grievance chairman that the locals had previously lacked, and now is in his third term as president.
“He was more than up for the challenge,” Barker said. “He set the bar for the ones that will follow him. He’s led his local through the best of times, running at full capacity, to the darkest of times in 2015 when U.S. Steel made the decision to shut our plant down and put 2,000 workers out on the streets.”
Simmons twice testified in Washington about unfair foreign dumping of steel, worked with United Way to set up a food pantry for the local, helped members with financial assistance and finally worked with state Representative Jay Hoffman to push through an extension of unemployment benefits.
“Because of that, he kept the lights on in a lot of houses, and a lot of car and house payments were made,” Barker said.
Doug May, a photographer and graphic artist who prepared the ad book for the event, said he wished he could share the Activist of the Year award with everyone who attended the packed-house luncheon at Neighborhood Social Club in Pontoon Beach. Close to 200 people filled the hall.
“If it weren’t for us working as a group, we wouldn’t be able to achieve these common goals of community service and helping those less fortunate,” he said. “I share this with everybody – all you activists out there!”
Jeff Rains, the chapter president, said May is the group’s technology expert and often posts political news on the website.
Rains added that Friend of SOAR winner C.J. Baricevic, the 12th District Congressional candidate in 2016, has continued his work on behalf of Labor and working people ever since that campaign and was an excellent candidate who ran in the wrong year.
“They were looking for a candidate and this guy came out of the woodwork, and they didn’t back him as good as they should have,” Rains said. “Anybody who had a chance to see him when he debated … well, we lost what would have been one heck of a congressman.”
The honored volunteer couples – the Schauses and the Hellrungs – are typically the first people to show up and help when the chapter is holding a major event, Rains said.