WASHINGTON, Pa. — United Steelworkers union officials and Allegheny Technologies Inc. bosses returned to the bargaining table April 19 for the first in-person negotiations since 1,300 workers went on strike at nine ATI plants across the country March 30. The strikers have been winning solidarity, standing up to the steel giant’s demands for givebacks that would weaken the union and widen divisions among workers.
Workers have not had a pay raise in seven years, while prices of basic necessities are going up, but ATI has offered no pay raise the first year of their proposed contract and just 3% for each of the next three years. ATI demands workers pay more for health insurance, that retirees’ benefits be cut, and that divisive lower wage and benefit tiers be expanded for new hires.
ATI bosses have been closing and downsizing Steelworkers-organized plants, while opening new plants nonunion, including a large and more profitable complex in North Carolina. Workers say less than 10% of ATI workers are employed at unionized plants today.
“They are trying to break the union,” Walter Hill, vice president of Steelworkers Local 1196 in Brackenridge, told Ned Measel and Samir Hazboun from Louisville, Kentucky, who visited the picket line April 17. They gave the union a solidarity card signed by 33 of their co-workers at Walmart, along with $90 in contributions for the strike fund.
Hundreds of workers have been laid off over time at the Brackenridge plant, ATI’s largest union mill, Hill said. Now there are less than 500 workers, because the company has been closing some production lines and sending other work to its newer, nonunion plants.
“They want to force new hires into worse health care,” Hill said. “I am an older worker. I am not selling out the next generation. The previous generation stood up for us.” He was referring to the fight waged by the union when ATI bosses locked them out in 2015 and a hard-fought strike in 1994.
Several Walmart and other workers from Pittsburgh, including this Militant worker-correspondent, joined strikers’ picket line in Washington the same day.
“We have learned over the years a lot about concessions, we gave concessions in 2004, and in 2008,” said striker Ron Klauss, who has worked in the mill for 14 years.
“The concessions they are trying to get out of you guys are like the ones they were trying to get out of us,” Gordon Everett, a retired autoworker who used to work at the now-closed Lordstown, Ohio, GM plant, told strikers.
Rebecca Roman noted that because there is no union at Walmart, the bosses are imposing “schedule changes that make it impossible for many of us who don’t have cars and depend on public transportation to get to work. They did this without asking us. They just brought us into an office and said we had to pick.”
That’s why we are fighting to defend our union, striker Ed Burgh said. “We know that if there were no union, every place would be like Walmart.”
Tony Lane, another Walmart worker from Pittsburgh and a Socialist Workers Party campaign supporter, and Melinda Swartz, a worker at American Cap Company in Sharon, and member of Steelworkers Local 1016-13 there, joined the picket line in Louisville, Ohio. Swartz was part of the fight that won the union at American Cap, after working there for eight years without one.
Striker Steve Benematti, a 30-year employee, told Swartz that teachers from the Louisville Education Association in Ohio had visited the picket line. “They came when we were locked out five years ago,” he said. “When they were on strike, we went down and supported them.”
Working-class solidarity is crucial in labor battles. Help win support for the ATI strikers! Join the picket lines. Send your support or contributions to USW Local 1196 at 1080 Brackenridge Ave., Brackenridge, PA 15014, or USW Local 7139 at 1505 Jefferson Ave., Washington, PA 15301, or USW Local 1046, 925 W. St. Louis Ct., Louisville, OH 44641.
Malcolm Jarrett is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh.