WASHINGTON, Pa. — “The concession stand is closed,” was the slogan used by Steelworkers at Allegheny Technologies Inc. when the bosses locked them out for seven months in 2015-16. Today some 1,300 United Steelworkers members are on strike against ATI bosses’ demands to cut jobs and worsen conditions.
“The concession stand is still closed,” is the message several of them asked me to report when I visited their picket line here April 5.
I said I would do everything I can to get out the word and build support for their fight.
“The company says they’re going to cut jobs from 1,300 to 900. They’re hoping to break the union,” said Carl Decker at another picket line in Vandergrift April 3. “They take a little bit from each contract. I’ve been here 20 years. It’s time to stop the bleeding. They’re trying to take more this time.”
Decker said he had to transfer to Vandergrift from a plant in Indiana after it closed. Other strikers, he pointed out, were facing a third round of job cuts, having moved twice previously from shuttered ATI plants. The company is pushing to close a production line in Brackenridge and plants in Connecticut and Ohio.
At the picket line at the Brackenridge plant strikers explained that one key issue in their strike is the company’s demands to increase the number of tiers for pay, and cut retirement and health care benefits.
Rob Baker, with seven years in the mill; Craig Hrivak, with 14 years; and Zach Walker, with only two years, all work in the same department. Walker is currently laid off.
“You have three divides right here,” Baker said, “Craig is a legacy guy, I have the pension but no option, and Zach is on the 401(k) and lower pay.” Walker will get no health care after retirement.
“These tiers create a divide between working people,” Walker said.
ATI has nine plants where workers are on strike — across Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Company spokeswoman Natalie Gillespie defended the health care concessions bosses are seeking in the March 31 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Employees at our competitors — again, including those represented by the USW — pay premiums, giving them a competitive advantage over us,” she complained.
“ATI will continue operations by using nonunion employees and temporary replacement employees,” Gillespie said. She argued the union had rejected the contract because it was not “rich enough” for union members.
“When you haven’t gotten a raise in seven years, you’ve got to do what’s right,” Dave Brestensky, an electrical technician on strike at the Brackenridge plant, told the Review. At the Vandergrift picket line horns never stopped honking as cars passed by. Some drivers stopped to talk to strikers. At the Washington plant, coal miners have visited the pickets and sent 20 pizzas to feed them.
At the Walmart where I work a couple of workers helped get two cakes delivered. One had the slogan, “This concession stand is STILL closed” and the other had, “These Walmart workers stand with ATI workers.”
Organize to get the word out about the strike, join the picket line and build solidarity in your union and community. You can contact USW Local 1196 at 1080 Brackenridge Ave., Brackenridge, PA 15014, and at firstname.lastname@example.org. USW Local 7139 is at 1505 Jefferson Ave., Washington, PA 15301.