Steelworkers refuse to give in to ATI bosses’ threats

By Tony Lane
May 10, 2021

BRACKENRIDGE, Pa. — “Don’t try to strong-arm the steelworkers,” said Todd Barbiaux, president of United Steelworkers Local 1196. He was responding to demands by bosses at Allegheny Technologies Inc. that the union accepts the company’s latest offer by 5 p.m., April 26, or bosses would pull it off the table. Barbiaux spoke to the Militant as some 1,300 steelworkers continue the strike they began March 30.

The bosses’ ultimatum followed two days of talks between the union and ATI management. Union negotiators rejected the threats.

Workers on the picket lines outside the mill here agreed with Barbiaux. Bosses use “bullying tactics,” Tom Ladie, a mechanical technician told the Militant.

“They’re treating us like children, if you don’t do this, time out,” electrician Don Smith added.

The steelworkers struck to fight the bosses’ moves to make them pay more for health insurance, cut retirees’ benefits and accept the expansion of divisive lower wage and benefit tiers for new hires. Bosses also plan to shut down plants in Louisville, Ohio; Waterbury, Connecticut; and the No. 3 Finishing Department here.

Smith pointed out that the company backed off some of its demands to cut overtime rates and contract out work during recent talks. But “they’ll just start adding that stuff back on,” he said.

“We don’t have a job” if the company goes ahead with the contracting-out, Ladie added.

The bosses’ ultimatum came as they continue efforts to get production running. Solidarity for the striking workers remains crucial.

Barbiaux described visits to the picket lines and union hall by other nearby steelworkers, members of the painters and glazers unions, electrical workers and schoolteachers. The local held a family night social April 27.

The central issue remains health care costs and the company’s efforts to break the union, Barbiaux said. The company’s proposed wage increases “are only going to cover the increasing costs of health care.”

“This is our livelihood. They’re coming after all of us,” he said. But at all nine locations where workers are striking, “we’re solid, we know each other.”

He pointed out that the company hasn’t said what health care costs will be in the fourth year of the contract in 2024. “They want us to sign an open check.”

The company’s proposal would maintain current premium-free health coverage until the beginning of 2024. But it only includes estimates of premium costs after that, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In that fourth year, Barbiaux added, new hires will also be treated differently, paying higher premiums.

“They haven’t backed off from that,” he said. “They want to create a two-tier system on health care. We have to protect the retirees and we want the steelworkers of the future to protect the retirees.”

Workers on the picket lines pointed out that the bosses’ proposed wage increases are contingent on workers accepting all their other demands, including job cuts and the closure of three plants.

Help win solidarity! Join the picket lines. Send your support or contributions to USW Local 1196 at 1080 Brackenridge Ave., Brackenridge, PA 15014 or USW Local 1046, 925 W. St. Louis Ct., Louisville, OH 44641.