Steelworkers stand up to ATI union-busting attack

By Tony Lane
May 24, 2021

WASHINGTON, Pa. — Over 1,300 United Steelworkers members are locked in a strike battle against union-busting bosses at Allegheny Technologies Inc. at nine plants in five states. The strikers on the picket lines are standing tall and winning solidarity from other workers.

ATI bosses say they plan to shutter three of the union-organized facilities this year: in Louisville, Ohio; Waterbury, Connecticut; and the No. 3 Finishing Department in Brackenridge. They’ve closed down other mills over the last decade. As part of their attacks on the union, bosses locked out the union workers in 2015-16. 

At the same time, they’ve opened a large nonunion complex in North Carolina, with over 4,500 workers in the Charlotte area alone. Workers say the majority of ATI plants are nonunion today. 

The union met with ATI May 6 and presented a revised offer, but instead of negotiating, the company withdrew to “caucus,” and hours later notified the union they didn’t plan to return. They did explain, the union said the next day, that “one of their main objectives was not about the cost of health care, but it was about making sure bargaining unit employees were paying an increased portion of the cost of health care.” 

The bosses insist they are offering good wage increases. But they also say these offers are “based upon savings generated from other proposals,” including increasing the workers’ costs for health care. 

“This is just nothing but corporate greed,” striker Steve McCullough, a laid-off laborer, told the Militant at the picket line here. “They are literally sitting on almost a billion dollars and they’re crying hard times.” 

“They want these jobs to be just like Walmart, with no stable workforce,  just high turnover,” he said. “Imagine if you’re young” and ATI gets its way, “you face a job with no vacation, no pension, and high health care costs.” 

Scott Nye, a slitter-operator with 28 years at the Louisville plant, told the Militant  on the picket line that health care was a key issue. “They want a two-tier system. They want new hires to go into a higher premium,” he said, adding the company refuses to agree to put a cap on what workers have to pay. 

“If there’s no cap on the cost,” striker Steve Benematti said, “we’ll stand out here till the cows come home.” 

At the Washington picket line, Randy Denman said, “The company says I don’t pay my share. But I have to pay $6,000 a year” in deductibles. 

The company claims the reason they don’t want fixed-cost health care is “so employees will benefit from any reduction in overall health care costs.” 

Denman said it’s a fiction health care costs will drop, “Health care costs go up 7% every year, on average.” 

Solidarity for the strike is crucial. Local 1046 at the Louisville plant has called a solidarity rally there for May 15. Strikers from other locals are planning to attend. ATI has refused to set severance and retirement packages for workers facing the looming shutdown at Louisville unless and until the contract is settled. 

Strikers are determined to help each other and build solidarity with other struck plants. During the 2015-16 lockout, “each week we took a different local, and visited them,” Karl Brendle, the former local president at Louisville, said. “We made it to nearly all the locked-out plants. It was very uplifting.” 

Send messages of support or strike fund contributions to USW Local 7139 at 1505 Jefferson Ave., Washington, PA 15301, or USW Local 1046, 925 W. St. Louis Ct., Louisville, OH 44641.