By CARL GREEN
While much of the focus was on U.S. Steel this fall as it negotiated a new contract with the United Steelworkers, the union was also completing three other contracts in the Metro-East, bringing raises to more than 1,000 union members.
A stronger economy helped workers win annual raises, typically just above or below three percent, from Amsted Rail in Granite City, Cerro Flow Products in Sauget and Alton Steel.
The workers approving the contracts had high expectations following government tax cuts to corporations, steel tariffs, lower unemployment rates and renewed hiring by the companies, said Dave Dowling, the director of USW Sub-District 2 in District 7, who helped push through the new agreements.
“They were decent raises,” he said, adding that U.S. Steel’s recent hiring, including some workers from the smaller companies, made a difference. “It’s a factor, and generally speaking, it’s a positive factor.”
The largest group, of about 700 workers, was at Amsted Rail, part of an international company that makes transportation-related products. At their foundry in Granite City, they make railcar parts including “bogies,” the all-important steel components that surround and support the wheels.
It’s an old plant, built in the early 1900s at Walnut Street and Niedringhaus Avenue as the city grew into a manufacturing center. The workers organized as USW Local 1063 in the 1940s. Strikes and lockouts have been uncommon there except for a three-week lockout in 1999 after workers rejected a contract proposal. “It’s been quiet since ’99,” Dowling said.
This year, the union could not endorse the company’s first proposal, and workers soundly rejected it. But the company agreed to continue negotiating, resulting in better terms that the union could recommend, and the members approved it by a large majority. Annual raises will typically be just under three percent, and workers will get $2,000 lump sums for signing. Health benefits remain strong.
Amsted Rail is part of the larger Amsted Industries, which has 49 facilities in 11 countries with more than 18,000 employees, making transportation and industrial products. Many of the facilities are within Amsted Rail, which says it is the world’s largest manufacturer of undercarriage and end-of-car freight car and locomotive components.
CERRO FLOW PRODUCTS
On Nov. 18, the Local 4294 membership of about 175 ratified a three-year contract with Cerro Flow Products, an outgrowth of the old Cerro Copper. The workers rejected the company’s first offer and passed a strike vote before the final terms were negotiated. Raises average about 3 percent a year.
This company was founded in 1908 by some scrap metal dealers. In the 1920s, it began refining purer grades of copper, in 1927 built a refinery in Sauget, and in 1939 began making copper tube, helping to supply the war effort. It joined Cerro de Pasco Corp. in 1957, which financed the Sauget mill and evolved into Cerro Copper and then Cerro Flow Products. The Sauget plant on Illinois Route 3 receives blocks of copper called billets and turns them into tubing, both straight and coiled.
Workers belong to Local 4294, which was originally part of the old Mine, Mill and Smelters Union, known for its radical positions. The local was merged into the United Steelworkers in the early 1960s.
The company calls itself “the most market-driven, customer-focused, low-cost provider of high quality flow control products to the plumbing, heating, air conditioning, refrigeration and industrial markets.”
About 200 workers here ratified a three-year contract in September, receiving wage increases of about 3 percent a year.
This plant was part of the larger LaClede Steel Company, and it had upwards of 3,700 workers in the 1960s. LaClede went bankrupt in 2001 and the plant was shut down a few years until it was purchased and re-opened as Alton Steel by a local investors group. That group’s leader, attorney John Simmons, is now the sole owner. He is the founder of Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC, known for its work for victims of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.