Tough Labor Talks at Steel Firms

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Steelworkers, U.S. Steel reach tentative contract agreement.

PITTSBURGH—The push by U.S. manufacturers to cut labor costs, especially for health care, is deepening the divide between three of the biggest U.S. steel companies and their main union. PITTSBURGH (KMOX) – Following what union negotiators describe as one of the most difficult rounds of collective bargaining ever faced, the United Steel Workers bargaining committee announced to its members, Saturday, a tentative agreement with U.S.

Steel Corp. and the United Steelworkers union have announced tentative agreement on a new contract covering about 18,000 workers at more than a dozen facilities across the country. Union president Leo Gerard said in a statement that it had been “a difficult year and a difficult round of bargaining.” He said, however, that he was “proud of the way the brothers and sisters of the USW stood up and demanded fair treatment.” Negotiations began in June with both sides decrying low-priced imports from China and elsewhere and amid price declines and slowing demand for steel because of a decline in oil and gas drilling. Steel cited depressed steel prices and fluctuations in the price of oil in a late November announcement that it was temporarily suspending operations at the Granite City facility. The tentative agreement, announced late Saturday, doesn’t cover about 13,000 workers at steelmaker Arcelor Mittal whose contract also expired in June. Steel president and CEO. “We believe this competitive three-year contract further supports the mutual success we have had with the USW in pursuing our Carnegie Way efforts and confronting unfair trade that is significantly impacting our industry.” Said USW International President Leo W.

Steel’s opening proposal contained demands for major cuts in pay and benefits, along with changes to work rules and other concessions that could have cost workers and their families thousands of dollars per year. At the other two firms, negotiations—which were all supposed to end this summer—are now certain to go on even longer, the first time in memory that this has happened, according to company and union officials involved in the talks. “These companies see that steel prices could be low for the next 10 years, and they’re saying they have to do whatever it takes to survive,” said Phil Gibbs, an analyst for Keybanc Capital Markets in Cleveland. “And they’re willing to wait.” Pittsburgh-based ATI, which locked out its employees during the summer, is running some of its plants with replacement workers, contractors, and white-collar staff, and has idled others. The USW is the largest industrial union in North America, representing workers in a range of industries including metals, mining, rubber, paper and forestry, oil refining, health care, security, hotels, and municipal governments. With health costs going up and the market down, companies say they now want workers to contribute over $125 a month, in order to survive low prices and competition from steel imported into the U.S. But privately, some officials said in interviews that there’s a risk steelworkers will have to make greater contributions to their health-care packages.

When ATI first sat down with the union this summer, it demanded that workers contribute to health-care costs, that it be allowed to replace retiring workers with contractors instead of blue-collar unionized workers, and that new hires open 401(k) plans instead of receiving pensions. Workers at ATI, which makes titanium and nickel alloys for the aerospace industry and metallic powders for 3-D printing, are among the best paid in the metals industry, making over $94,000 a year, including overtime, and receive full pension and health-care benefits. Health-care costs, which have been consistently rising around 5% a year, faster than inflation, are the biggest issue in the stalled talks, say ATI executives. “Health-care costs are too expensive and we have to deal with that,” said Mr. And they have the cash to weather a lockout—and most of the workers’ unemployment pay, currently around $2,000 a month, will start being phased out over the first few months of next year. Cars driving up honked in support. “We went into the negotiations knowing there was a possibility of taking some hits,” said Gary Hibner, 63. “But with everything the company wants to take away, well, it’s hard to stomach.”

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