Thousands March for Fair Contracts in Steel Industry

Thousands of USW members and supporters took to the streets of Pittsburgh, Chicago and Burns Harbor, Ind., on Sept. 1 to demand fair contract settlements with U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI).

fair contract3“We all stand in solidarity together,” District 10 Director Bobby “Mac” McAuliffe told a cheering throng of 3,000 people outside the USW building in Downtown Pittsburgh as the crowd began its march through the city to the headquarters of ATI and U.S. Steel.

USW contracts with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal were set to expire at the end of the day on Sept. 1, but the union has agreed to keep working while bargaining continues. The union’s contract with ATI expired on June 30, and the company locked out 2,200 members at 12 plants on Aug. 15.

Another crowd of 3,000 marched on Tuesday at ArcelorMittal offices in Chicago and Burns Harbor, Ind., and hundreds more USW members and allies held rallies at ATI plants throughout the country.

“This is about fairness and justice, but it’s about more than that,” said District 1 Director David McCall as he held aloft Marlee Grinage, 7, daughter of USW member Jaimee Grinage. “It’s about our children and our grandchildren.”

fair contract 2The steel industry is cyclical, but industry leaders want to use the current, temporary crisis to make permanent changes that would turn back decades of progress union members have made at the bargaining table, said McCall, who leads the union’s negotiations with ArcelorMittal.

“The same companies that we helped to create are now attacking us,” said Pete Trinidad, president of USW Local 6787 in Burns Harbor. “We’re not going to stand for it.”

USW marchers were joined by workers from dozens of other unions, along with clergy members, AFL-CIO leaders, community activists and lawmakers, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, the grandson of steelworkers.

“Here in Pittsburgh, we support good jobs for all,” Peduto told the crowd. “Rights that have been negotiated over the years are being taken away.”

Those long-held rights that are under attack include the right to overtime after an eight-hour work day, the right to a secure retirement, and the right to affordable health care, said Dan Simmons, president of USW Local 1899 at the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City, Ill.

fair contract1“These proposals would take us back to the 1950s,” Simmons said. “We know what [U.S. Steel CEO] Mario Longhi makes, and those don’t sound like 1950s wages to me.”

International Vice President Tom Conway, who leads the USW’s negotiations with U.S. Steel and ATI, said the union’s current fight isn’t just about good jobs in the steel industry, but about good wages and benefits for all American workers.

“America is sick of watching bosses saying they lost money and then paying themselves millions of dollars more,” Conway said.

With ATI, Conway said, the USW bargained contracts that gave the company the savings and flexibility it needed to invest $1.2 billion in 2008 to build a state-of-the-art hot-rolling and processing facility in Brackenridge, Pa., only to see the company lock workers out of their jobs after the new plant opened.

“It’s one of the most shameful things we’ve seen in a long time,” Conway said.

Despite the current steel industry crisis and tough times at the bargaining table, speaker after speaker promised that the USW’s solidarity and fighting spirit would allow Steelworkers to prevail in the end.

“We will get through this, as we always have,” said District 7 Director Mike Millsap. “We always last one day longer.”

 

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