Steelworkers solidarity secures tentative four-year contract with improved wages, pensions, no changes to health care

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DAN SIMMONS, president of United Steel Workers Local 1899, with U.S. Steel Granite City Works behind him, says the solidarity of union members let company officials know workers were not bluffing when they said they were ready to go on strike. – United Steelworkers photo

‘It’s a good contract. We’re proud of it.’

By CARL GREEN
Illinois Correspondent

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.

THE WORKERS 

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.

STEEL STRONG: USW Subdistrict 2 Director Dave Dowling handed banners last month outside the gates of Granite City Works as workers rallied for a fair contract. – Labor Tribune photo

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.”

STEELWORKERS hold up banners in a lot across 20th Street from the Nash Gate of the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City as contract negotiations got under way. – Labor Tribune photo

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.

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