Steelworkers Vote to Give Negotiators Authorization for Strike Against U.S. Steel

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

U.S. Steel’s demands for benefit cuts forced its workers, members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, to give their contract negotiators authorization to call a strike, the union said. USW members at ArcelorMittal could soon take a similar strike authorization vote.

U.S. Steel’s 16,000 workers “made a number of sacrifices over the past several years – including three years with a wage freeze – to put this company back on track,” said USW International President Leo Gerard. “Now that U.S. Steel is expecting to make a profit of nearly $2 billion this year, it is time for the workers to share in the success U.S. Steel is seeing.”

Bargaining over a new pact started in July and the old contract expired September 1. The strike authorization does not mean workers will immediately walk. Negotiations continue and the union must give 48 hours’ notice before a strike starts.

Top U.S. Steel officials have given themselves more than $50 million in pay and bonuses since 2015. Meanwhile the hourly work force has not received a wage increase over the same period, the union explained. The U.S. Steel plants where USW members work are in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama. Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Ohio.

Trump administration tariffs on imported steel boosted demand and profits for U.S. steelmakers and led to the reopening of production lines and recall of workers at several mills, including the Granite City plant.

“The USW did not come to the bargaining table looking for a fight,” said Vice President Tom Conway. “We came ready to work out an honest and fair agreement, but that is a far cry from what the company is demanding.”

U.S. Steel wants major increases in what workers pay for benefits. These concessions would reduce take home pay. The company also is demanding elimination of many on-the-job protections, the Steelworkers said. Three years ago, the firm, then facing bankruptcy, demanded and got a contract-long wage freeze and a cut in weekly hours from 40 to 32.

“With the company hugely profitable and industry conditions the best they have been in years, this is no time for U.S. Steel to pick a fight with workers who have been there to help them during the toughest times,” said USW District 7 Director Mike Millsap. “It’s time to come together and do what’s right for these workers, their families and their communities.”

The story is similar at ArcelorMittal, the union said.

“Three years ago, when steel prices bottomed out due to the unfair and illegal trade, management sought to unravel generations of collective bargaining progress with contract demands designed to reduce our standards of living and destroy the safety nets negotiated to protect us from lay-offs and plant closures,” USW’s bargaining update noted.

“We resisted those concessions, and after almost 10 months of difficult negotiations, finally reached an agreement that provided enough flexibility for the company to survive the downturn – but more importantly – protected the security of our jobs, earnings, benefits and pensions. Since then, as one result of our union fighting for the government to crack down on trade cheaters, the market has rebounded.”

“Further, Steelworkers at ArcelorMittal USA – already the most efficient workforce on the planet – continued to improve productivity – and as a result, the company has enjoyed financial success.” But management came to the table this year “with the same backward-thinking proposals” workers refused to accept three years ago.

“Judging from its ridiculously inferior proposed healthcare plans, refusal to make meaningful improvements in wages or pensions and concessionary demands regarding supplemental unemployment, incentive, vacation pay and our hot-rolled steel bonus, Arcelor-Mittal intends to test our solidarity and commitment to achieve a fair and equitable contract.”

“Our jobs are worth fighting for thanks to the hard work and determination of those who came before us. As long as we continue to work together and stand together to fight for justice, we will win the fair contract we have earned and deserve,” the ArcelorMittal bargainers said.

Instead of bargaining in good faith and recognizing the workers’ sacrifices, “the corporate shakedown of the working proletariat continues with calls for variable wages tied to the performance of the company stock and cuts to the medical benefits of retirees,” USW Local 4889 Rapid Response Coordinator Richard Cucarese added in an August 31 blog. His local represents USW members at the Fairless Works in Pennsylvania.

This time, U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt presented “an insulting offer of minimal pay raises that would immediately be wiped out by astronomical increases in what workers would have to pay for health insurance over a proposed 6-year period,” Cucarese added.

“Burritt wanted to eliminate overtime rules, give the corporation the ability to shorten work weeks with no notice, change health plans with no notice and institute a plethora of other injustices that would wipe out 70 years of USW collectively bargained improvements for workers…Burritt is playing a dangerous game of chicken with the American people. With tariffs in place, and the possibility of Congress passing an infrastructure bill, projections are for the steel business to boom.”.

“America’s workers, not its fat-cat CEOs like Burritt, are the drivers of the capitalist machine. If a strike occurs, it will be because of Burritt’s refusal to allow workers a just portion of the profits their labor created.” 

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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