By CARL GREEN
Granite City – It was not a big surprise but still good to see the United Steelworkers unite strongly to ratify their new, four-year contract with U.S. Steel with a nationwide vote.
The contract restores wage increases to the Steelworkers that had been foregone when the previous three-year contract was approved during tough times. The new contract reflects a changed steel industry with stronger demand and better prices.
“This new contract puts the company in a position to succeed and ensures that the workforce will be able to share in that success,” said Mike Millsap, District 7 Director for the union. “It’s a win-win.”
The contract covers an estimated 16,000 steelworkers including 1,500 at the Granite City Works, which has been revived after a three-year partial shutdown.
U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt seemed to agree with Millsap about the contract. “We believe these four-year agreements are fair and in the best long-term interests of all shareholders,” he said.
In 2015 bargaining, the company and union faced a flood of cheap imports, much of it from China. So the union had to forego raises. The Steelworkers then built a strong under U.S. trade policy, filing a series of claims that showed China was dealing unfairly in order to build its market share. Those filings led to the Trump administration approval of tariffs, which combined with higher world demand to create today’s profitable industry. U.S. Steel, for one, had a $291 million profit in the third quarter this year – twice what it made in all of 2017.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED — FOR THE BETTER
In a message to members, the union said times had changed – for the better.
“This time around, we knew that things were different,” the union said. “U.S. Steel and the industry as a whole were thriving again, and we would not settle for a concessionary agreement. Because of your sacrifices and your solidarity, we were able to make sure that we could share in the company’s success and get the contract we knew we deserved.”
The contract runs through Sept. 1, 2022. Wage increases total 14 percent over the four-year span, the high-quality health care continues, and retirement benefits are strengthened, the union announced.
USW International President Leo Gerard said the contract is an appropriate response to the tough times workers had to go through under the last contract.
“In 2015, workers recognized that the steel industry was struggling and agreed to make sacrifices so that U.S. Steel could get through some tough times,” Gerard said. “Now that the company has recovered and is projected to earn nearly $2 billion this year, workers rightly wanted a share of that success.”
STRIKE VOTE MATTERED
The company’s first response was to demand more concessions, but in September, the workers voted unanimously to authorize a strike.
“The strength and solidarity of the USW membership were the keys to achieving a fair agreement,” said Tom Conway, international vice president and bargaining chairman.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said the contract sets an example for the rest of the economy.
“The winners are not just corporations but also the average worker,” he said. “ This very fair deal shares the benefits of the tariffs in a way that rewards hard work and investment while also not being unduly inflationary. This is a vision for the U.S. economy we should all support.”
The contract covers 24 union locals at Clairton Works, Mon Valley and Fairless Hills in Pennsylvania; Gary Works, Midwest Plant and East Chicago Tin in Indiana; Fairfield and Fairfield Southern in Alabama; Granite City Works in Illinois; Great Lakes Works in Michigan; Keetac and Minntac in Minnesota; Lone Star Tubular in Texas; and Lorain Tubular in Ohio.