Steelworkers at ArcelorMittal, US Steel protest concession demands

By Susan Lamont
and Dave Ferguson
September 17, 2018
Steelworkers rally in Fairfield, Alabama, Aug. 30 against U.S. Steel demands for increase in health care costs and other concessions. Contract for over 30,000 ran out two days later.
Militant/Susan LaMontSteelworkers rally in Fairfield, Alabama, Aug. 30 against U.S. Steel demands for increase in health care costs and other concessions. Contract for over 30,000 ran out two days later.

FAIRFIELD, Ala. — “We don’t want this contract and we aren’t going to have it,” Lewis Parsons, who has worked at U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works here for 28 years, told the Militant. “They have to come up with something better. They just can’t do the retirees like that.”

Parsons was one of some 200 United Steelworkers Local 1013 members and supporters who rallied outside their union hall Aug. 30 to protest the company’s demands for yet another round of concessions from union members, both working and retired, as the current contract expires.

Similar rallies and marches took place in cities where U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal have mills and mines. USW contracts with both giant steel companies expired Sept. 1. Some 31,000 union workers are involved — 16,000 in 24 union locals at U.S. Steel and 15,000 in 13 locals at ArcelorMittal. The steel bosses and the USW announced the current contract would be extended and contract negotiations continue day to day. The union announced locals at U.S. Steel plants would take strike authorization votes Sept. 4.

Members of the United Mine Workers, American Federation of Teachers, Communications Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and several other unions joined USW members at the rally, as did members of Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.

According to an update sent out by the United Steelworkers leadership, the U.S. Steel bosses’ proposed contract includes small wage increases for the first three years of the contract, then only lump-sum annual bonus payments tied to annual company income; increased out-of-pocket costs for medical insurance resulting in an actual wage decrease for many union members; cuts in benefits for retired members; establishment of a two-tier setup for new hires; and many other cuts in benefits and changes in work rules and conditions. USW members who work for U.S. Steel haven’t had a raise for six years.

ArcelorMittal bosses are demanding new concessions in health care, vacation pay and bonuses.

Union officials agreed to concessions and a pay freeze in the last round of contract negotiations, saying the steel bosses faced competitive pressures. This time, however, they say the bosses are making profits — $2.1 billion in the second quarter of 2018 alone — rewarding themselves with generous bonuses, and should provide workers with a sizable pay raise and drop new concession demands around health care.

Workers are angry about the bosses’ push for more. “What they’re trying to do is wrong, to the retirees, to us, to everyone,” said Doug Robinson, who has worked at the Fairfield pipe mill 18 years, the first 10 as a contract worker. Many USW members expressed the view that it’s time for workers to see improvements.

Steelworker marches and rallies took place across the country, including in Burns Harbor, Gary, Indiana Harbor and elsewhere in Indiana. Steelworkers from three plants in western Pennsylvania came together to rally in Clairton. Over 1,000 iron ore miners from U.S. Steel’s Minntac and Keetac operations and ArcelorMittal’s Minorca mine rallied in Minnesota’s northern Mesabi Iron Range.