BURNS HARBOR, Ind. — Thousands of Steelworkers who work at mills owned by ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel and Allegheny Technologies Inc. rallied and marched here, in Pittsburgh and in other cities Sept. 1. They are fighting against major concessions the bosses are demanding in their contracts.
With the contracts with ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel due to expire at the end of that day, USW officials announced they reached a “continue to work agreement” with ArcelorMittal and offered to keep working under the existing contract terms while talks continue at U.S. Steel as well. About 30,000 workers are involved.
Meanwhile, 2,200 members of the USW who work at ATI remain locked out of their jobs at 12 plants in six states.
Smaller rallies took place Sept. 1, including in Chicago; Conshohocken, Pennsylvania; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Waterbury, Connecticut. The USW is planning another major action Sept. 7 on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota.
Steelworkers gathered at the USW Local 6787 hall and were bused to a nearby park for a rally. Then some 2,000 marched to the ArcelorMittal offices here in the heart of the Chicago-area steel industry.
“When I started in the mill 44 ½ years ago there were accidents every day,” Charles Blankenship, 64, who worked at U.S. Steel in Gary after retiring from ArcelorMittal, told the Militant. “Mainly because of union involvement the safety improved. If it wasn’t for the union the mills would be a lot worse.
“I was driving a coal hauler that slid off the ramp because they didn’t have a brim. I was covered up and trapped inside,” he said. “After I was rescued the supervisor told me they wouldn’t report the accident, but I told him ‘I quit. I didn’t work at ArcelorMittal for 44 ½ years to come to U.S. Steel to get killed.’”
Jerome Davidson, Rapid Response coordinator for USW District 7, told the rally there were workers there from over 10 Steelworkers locals, including locals at Chicago-area mills and Local 7-1, which was on strike for three months at the BP oil refinery in Whiting.
Levi Simmons, 26, who works at U.S. Steel’s Midwest Plant near Portage, was at the rally with Jimmie Edwards, 65, who has been there for 35 years. “They are going after insurance for retirees and propose no raises,” said Simmons. “They want us to work 32 hours a week instead of 40 and don’t want to pay overtime after eight hours,” Edwards said.
U.S. Steel is demanding “dramatic increases in active and retiree health care costs as well as changes to contract language covering hours, overtime and contracting out, among other concessions,” a union press release stated.
“The most important issue is health care,” said Bruce Tull, who has worked at ArcelorMittal for 40 years and is a technician at the mill here. “We gave up wage increases in other contracts to keep these benefits. We pay no premiums and low co-pays.”
The companies are demanding $250 premiums for families, $150 for single workers and higher co-pays. They want a two-tier setup that would mean lower pay and benefits for new hires.
“They want to take away everything. It is not fair for the new hires. All workers need a union,” said Archie Aaron Jr., a retiree from ArcelorMittal.
Marvin Britton was at the rally with his wife Kim. Both work at U.S. Steel in Gary. “This year the company started a program called the Carnegie Way that saves the company money by doing things like workers making less scrap. But the company still wants more.” Marvin Britton told the Militant.
“We understand the conditions with the dumping of steel, but we don’t want the companies to take advantage of us. These companies were built on the backs of the workers,” Kim Britton said. “We work around a lot of unsafe chemicals. Things like safety, health care and retirement are big concerns.”
BY MITCHEL ROSENBERG
PITTSBURGH — Some 2,000 members of the United Steelworkers and supporters rallied here Sept. 1. The boisterous crowd marched from the USW International headquarters to both ATI and U.S. Steel corporate offices.
ATI locked out over 2,200 USW members Aug. 15, refusing to budge on many concession demands common to the three companies. On Aug. 31, the USW announced it would meet with ATI and federal mediators Sept. 11-12.
“What the company is trying to do to us is a terrible thing. But a younger generation is turning out, gaining experience and confidence,” said Local 7139-05 member Joe Korowicki, who is locked out at ATI’s Washington, Pennsylvania, works. “I love the solidarity.”
“We’re ready to strike if it doesn’t work out,” said Erv Meyer, who works at U.S. Steel in Fairless Hills.
“Since the lockout, the women have really stepped up in each local” at ATI’s Vandergrift mill, said Regina Stinson, who has spearheaded Steelworkers Spouses of ATI Flat Roll Products there. Her husband, Terry Stinson, is a locked-out member of Steelworkers Local 1138. “The most important responsibility we have and the best education we can get is on the picket line,” she said.
ATI has hired strikebreaking security thugs from Phillips Group, Inc.
“We were just talking about the history of union busting in this country,” said Local 1557 member Earl Kauffman, from U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works. “The Pinkertons were formed to be strikebreakers and they were used against workers on strike at Homestead Works in Pittsburgh.”
Steelworkers from Pittsburgh and other areas were joined by contingents from the United Food and Commercial Workers, Our Walmart, Operating Engineers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, International Association of Fire Fighters and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute.
Cyndi Murray, part of the campaign for “$15 and full-time work” at Walmart in Laurel, Maryland, came with a co-worker. Like her father and brother, Murray worked at Homestead Works before U.S. Steel closed it in the 1980s.
“At Walmart, the bosses cut the workforce and put extra work on fewer people, sometimes demanding we do the impossible,” Murray said, “If we can change Walmart, we can change the country.”
Kurt Dehnert was busy signing up Steelworkers and others to support efforts to win $15 and a union where he works at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital.
Mitchel Rosenberg is a member of USW Local 10-1 at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery. Arlene Rubinstein contributed to this article.
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