U.S. Steel’s CEO is Playing a Dangerous Game of Chicken with the Markets, Steelworkers and America

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

With the dog days of summer upon us, many people spent their Labor Day cooling off in pools, heading to the beaches, or just relaxing in the shade without any thoughts of work entering their minds. 

But for approximately 16,000 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union employed at the mills of the U.S. Steel Corp., the holiday took on a brand new meaning as they prepared themselves for the possibility of the largest work stoppage in the domestic steel industry since 1986. This was in response to U.S. Steel coming to the bargaining table that weekend with a contract proposal nearly as regressive and damaging than ones offered just weeks earlier.

Just three years ago, U.S. Steel was on the verge of bankruptcy, a situation caused by a mixture of bad business decisions, poorly timed austerity measures and illegally subsidized, underpriced Chinese steel dumped onto world markets.

 It was at this time that the Steelworkers agreed to freeze wages over three years and give up the guarantee of a 40-hour work week, reducing it to 32, in the hopes that when the company rebounded, it would reward the work force in the next round of contract talks.

In the ensuing years, U.S. Steel did flourish. This was due to the labor of its dedicated and skilled workers, as well as tariffs imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump.

U.S. Steel also received a large tax break this year from Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration, aiding the company’s ability to invest. Shareholders revived their faith in the industry, moving U.S. Steel’s stock from lowly single digits back to respectability.

Over the past few months, with their labor contract set to end, USW members felt confident their hard-fought efforts to help restore the corporation to its best financial position in a decade would be rewarded.

But CEO David Burritt had other plans, approaching the contract negotiations with 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 six-year period. 

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.

With their backs against the wall, the USW contract committee authorized strike votes for the week of Labor Day.

David 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.  

Burritt also is playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with his shareholders, who may abandon ship, feeling a work stoppage at this critical juncture would injure the company, plunging U.S. Steel back into single digits and poor bond ratings and preventing needed investments in the mills from ever taking place.

Lastly, Burritt is playing a dangerous game with the Steelworkers. Burritt and his upper echelon executives lavishly have rewarded themselves with over $40 million dollars in compensation since 2015. In addition, they gave shift managers $10,000 to $30,000 annual bonuses. Meanwhile, Steelworkers scraped by without raises for years and thousands at the Granite City, Ill., mill remained idled, wondering if they’d ever work again.

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.

Writing of the Little Steel strike in 1937, Upton Sinclair put it perfectly: “The purpose of the strike is to teach you what capitalism is; to free you from the accepted falsehoods of your class.”


You can contact Richard on Twitter @stlwrkr4889.

Posted In: Union Matters

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