Thousands of United Steelworkers members who work at U.S. Steel voted to authorize union officials to call a strike if a contract agreement isn’t reached with bosses soon. The vote was unanimous at many sites, including Gary, Indiana; Fairfield, Alabama; Clairton, Pennsylvania; and Minntac, Minnesota.
The three-year contract covering 16,000 USW members in 24 union locals expired Sept. 1. The contract for 15,000 more steelworkers in 13 locals employed by ArcelorMittal ended the same day. The votes come after thousands rallied against steel bosses’ concession demands at dozens of plants Aug. 30. Workers remain on the job as negotiations continue.
Workers’ wages have been frozen for the past three years and both companies are demanding concessions in health care and retirement benefits.
“The company got what it wanted with the steel tariffs against Chinese-made steel,” Mike Cheek, a member of USW Local 1010, told the Militant at the rally of some 250 members at the ArcelorMittal plant in East Chicago, Indiana. “It increases the company’s profits. And now they want more concessions from us! No way!”
U.S. Steel’s latest offer, announced Sept. 4, would boost workers’ family health insurance premiums up to $237 per month, with additional expenses piled on, adding up to as much as $2,000 or $4,000 more per year by the end of the contract, the union said. U.S Steel proposes a one-time $5,000 payment to make the “transition” to workers paying thousands more in annual health care costs.
The proposal covers six years and includes a 4 percent raise the first year; 3 percent in the next two years; and 1 percent years four to six, with bosses promising possible bonuses, dependent on the company’s profit level.
U.S. Steel bosses are also demanding new hires be paid only 80 percent of what steelworkers get now and be saddled with an even worse health plan, with deductibles of up to $3,200. And everything would be worse for retirees.
“We will not leave our retirees behind or throw away the future of younger steelworker generations for money upfront in the form of bonuses that really amount to a wage decrease,” Michael Young, USW Local 6103 president at the Portage plant in Indiana, told the Times of Northwest Indiana.
The two steel companies’ mills and iron ore mines are located in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, and on the Iron Range in Minnesota.
Dan Fein contributed to this article.