By CARL GREEN
Granite City – With their contract set to expire on Saturday, Sept.1, Steelworkers throughout the country rallied last week to show their determination to win a better deal this time around.
Some 300 workers gathered outside the Nash Gate of the U.S. Steel plant Thursday, Aug. 30, and picked up new banners that they were planning to carry in the Labor Day parade on Monday.
“This is an important message to send to the company – that we will not stand for the offers that they’re making us for a contract – and that we need a fair contract, a just contract, and we want it now,” said Tom Ryan, grievance chairman for USW Local 1899.
“We’re not going to back down, we’re not going to give up, and
we’re going to get what we’ve got coming to us!”
The workers loudly agreed, joining in a chant of “What do we want? A fair contract!” and then adding a few slogans of their own – “No extension!” and “No two-tier!” and “Protect the retirees!”
A LONG STRUGGLE?
United Steelworkers Subdistrict 2 Director Dave Dowling led the cheers and told the workers they were helping themselves just by showing up.
“This is the first step in what might be a long struggle,” he said. “But because you’re out here, we may not have to go to step two or step three.
“By being here, we’re sending a message that will make a difference. Every one of you should feel proud about being out here, because you’re making a difference just by virtue of being here.”
He then began handing out picket line surveys to organize pickets if necessary.
“If things don’t start moving forward between now and a week from now, we’ll have to be prepared for the next step,” he said.
The U.S. Steel contract covers about 16,000 union members. The union called the latest offer “extremely insulting” in a statement last week. Another contract, between ArcelorMittal and about 15,000 USW members, expires at the same time.
MARKET HAS CHANGED
The last contract was agreed to three years ago after five months of negotiations. It froze wages and made changes to health care at a time when cheap steel imports were hurting the company and the union. Things are different now, with higher prices and national tariffs.
“The business climate right now is good,” industry analyst John Tumazos told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I would expect the union would want their share of the pie.”
U.S. Steel proposed a seven-year contract with a $1,500 signing bonus, a 3.3 percent wage increase in the first year, a two percent raise in the second and one percent in the third year. Traditional raises would then be replaced with profit-sharing bonuses.
A union memo said, “U.S. Steel calls this a transformational proposal because in the future, any wage increases and economic adjustment would come solely through their profit-sharing bonus schemes.”
Also in the proposal, the new hires for production jobs would be paid only 80 percent of what current employees make and would be on a different health care plan with deductibles of up to $3,200 and an out-of-pocket maximum of $6,000 a year.
U.S. Steel wants all workers to double health care deductibles and pay dental contributions of $9 to $27 a month and a monthly family premium of $210. Pre-Medicare retirees’ monthly health care fee would rise from $220 to $320 next year and then by $20 a year.
Wayne State University Labor Relations Professor Marick Masters said the company and union may have to keep workers on the job while contract talks continue to keep from losing ground to foreign competition.
Tumazos said a strike could lead to the suspension of steel tariffs.