BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a closely contested vote December 30, steelworkers who have been on strike against CF&I Steel in Pueblo, Colorado, accepted a proposal from union officials to end their walkout and make an offer to the company to unconditionally return to work.
"After three hours of sometimes acrimonious debate," stated an article in the Pueblo Chieftain, union members voted 355 - 259 to end the strike. Picket lines were taken down that evening. Some 1,100 members of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) locals 2102 and 3267 went on strike against CF&I October 3.
The workers were demanding an end to forced overtime, the right to have a say in work assignments, increased wages, improvements in the pension plan, and health care benefits for retirees. Workers at the mill gave up $35 million in wage and benefit concessions after Oregon Steel bought the facility in 1993. This came on top of a $50 million concessionary package prior to the takeover. This was the first steelworkers strike in Pueblo since 1959, when 8,000 workers walked out.
The company insists that the 600 scabs hired during the course of the strike, as well as 100 union members who crossed the line, would remain on the job and the strikers would be rehired "to the extent we have openings," according to company spokeswoman Vicki Taglafico.
She claimed that there would be less than 50 job openings available to the returning steelworkers. Union officials described the move to end the walkout as "not a surrender but a legal maneuver to increase pressure on Oregon Steel to settle the strike," according to an article in the December 31 Pueblo Chieftain. They say that the "corporate campaign" begun against Oregon Steel would continue.
These actions have focused on demonstrations at offices of Wells Fargo Bank, the company's main lender, to urge investors to sell their stock.
The union officialdom is also hoping that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will rule in its favor that the strike is over unfair labor practices, which could result in some back pay for striking workers and the dismissal of the replacement workers.
If the NLRB rules for the union, Oregon Steel could still take the case to federal appeals court, as it did in a similar dispute 14 years ago in Portland, Oregon.
Some of those cases are still in court. In the 1983 fight, Oregon Steel succeeded in breaking the union at its Portland mill.
Brian Williams is a member of United Steelworkers of
America Local 2609 in Sparrows Point, Maryland.
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