‘It’s a good contract. We’re proud of it.’
By CARL GREEN
Granite City, IL – Dan Simmons says he felt the “closest ever” to going on strike against U.S. Steel in recent contract negotiations, but that picture changed and the Steelworkers wound up with a tentative four-year master agreement that, if approved by union members, will break a three-year wage freeze.
The picture changed, Simmons said, because of the strength of the workers.“It was the solidarity of the union. The company realized that we were not bluffing when we said we were willing to strike,” said Simmons, president of Steelworkers Local 1899, the largest at the Granite City Works. “They’re going strong right now, and it was our time to get our fair share.”
Simmons and other union leaders are now planning informational meetings, followed by ratification votes.
“It’s a good contract. We’re proud of it,” he said, noting it includes wage increases, improved pensions and no changes to health care. “It will take care of our members and their families for the next four years.”
International President Leo Gerard credited the members as well.
“U.S. Steel began this process insisting upon deep concessions from a group of workers who had already made major sacrifices to help the company through a very difficult time,” he said. “It’s a testament to the power of solidarity that these workers were able to stand up with one voice and demand fair treatment.”
BALLOTS IN THE MAIL
The tentative agreement was reached on Oct. 15, and the Steelworkers’ negotiating team approved the plan unanimously. Ratification ballots are being mailed to some 16,000 members across the country.
U.S. Steel President David Burritt said the plan was in the best interests of employees, their families and the company’s customers and stockholders.
“We’ve agreed on terms that will create certainty and stability for our many stakeholders, enable our company to implement our long-term business strategy – which includes continued, responsible investments in our people and plants – and position U.S. Steel to remain a leader in the highly competitive global steel industry,” Burritt said.
TARIFFS, IMPROVED ECONOMY PLAYED A ROLE
Tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports played a role in the negotiations, but Steelworkers have maintained that the overall improvement of the economy has accounted for higher demand as well and for the re-opening of Granite City Works.
Although specific contract measures were not provided, the Wall Street Journal used a company website to calculate that the lowest wage tier might increase from the current $20.45 an hour to $24.66 by September 2021 – a 21 percent increase – following three years with no raises.
WORKERS TAKE A STAND
Workers voted to authorize a strike after the old contract expired on Sept. 1. “This group of workers stood up to a hugely profitable company and demanded a piece of the success they helped to create,” said International Vice-President Tom Conway, chairman of the union bargaining committee. “Every member of this union should be proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
The old contract, created under vastly different circumstances, included a wage freeze because the company was then losing money.
The vote by union negotiators to recommend the new contract was unanimous.
“From where we started to where we ended up is magnificent,” said John Arbogast, a member of the negotiating team and president of Local 1938 in Virginia, MN, where members work at Minntac Mine. “We did great with health care, wages and pensions.”
Cliff Tobey, president of Local 2660, another Minnesota mining local, was also pleased. “We’re happy we were able to bargain an agreement,” he said. “It was a long process, but we got where we needed to be. It really was the union members’ solidarity that got it done. We ended up in a lot different place than where we started.”
WORKERS COVERED BY NEW CONTRACT
The master agreement covers workers at these locations:
• Clairton Works, Pennsylvania.
• East Chicago Tin, Indiana.
• Fairfield, Alabama.
• Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania.
• Gary Works, Indiana.
• Granite City Works, Illinois.
• Great Lakes Works, Michigan.
• Keetac, Minnesota.
• Lone Star Tubular, Texas.
• Lorain Tubular, Ohio.
• Midwest Plant, Indiana.
• Minntac, Minnesota.
• Mon Valley Works, Pennsylvania.
Bargaining continues for a second big steel contract, between the Steelworkers and ArcelorMittal. Arcelor and U.S. Steel account for 40 percent of flat-rolled steel capacity in the U.S.