VANDERGRIFT, Pa. — “Fair contract now!” 120 striking steelworkers, family members and supporters chanted at a rally and expanded picket line at the Allegheny Technologies Inc. plant here June 9. Some 1,300 United Steelworkers union members walked out at nine ATI facilities in five states since March 30.
Workers at ATI have not had a pay raise since 2014, yet the steel giant is offering no wage increase in the first year of their proposed new contract, with measly 3% increases each of the next three years. The company is demanding workers pay more for health insurance and wants to jack it up even more for new hires, and cut retirement benefits.
ATI President and CEO Robert Wetherbee boasted in April that “our first quarter financial results exceeded expectations.” He said that the company’s progress, despite what it claims are net losses, is due to a recovery in jet engine production and “aggressive 2020 cost cutting actions.” With the opening of new nonunion plants, less than 10% of ATI workers are in the union today. ATI says it plans to close or reduce other unionized plants in the near future.
Steelworkers from ATI plants in nearby Brackenridge, Latrobe, and Washington, Pennsylvania, as well as in Louisville, Ohio, joined the expanded action. There were also delegations from the United Mine Workers, American Postal Workers Union, Greater Westmoreland County Labor Council, Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council and other unions.
Walmart workers from two Pittsburgh-area stores brought cards expressing solidarity signed by more than 20 co-workers.
“We can’t reach agreement,” ATI spokesperson Natalie Gillespie said in reply to questions from the Militant June 16, “without addressing the cost of health care.” ATI is demanding a cap on what it pays out for health insurance. The union says this will result in workers having to pay high premiums.
“It’s not just about the health care premiums. It’s about retirees’ health care, it’s about new hires’ health care, and it’s about contributions to pensions,” Keith Beavers, United Steelworkers Local 1138 president, told the rally.
Beavers urged participants to stay on the picket line after the rally and make their presence known as supervisors and replacement workers ATI has hired to try and break the strike came and left during the shift change.
Don Thomas, a Black worker with 25 years in the Brackenridge plant, was trying to get the attention of Black workers among those in the vans carrying strikebreakers. “We saw the same thing in 2015 during the lockout,” he told the Militant, referring to their last contract fight. “They brought up African American workers from Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama.” He said that crossing the picket line “in the long run is going to hurt their own families.”
Walter Geiger from the Greater Westmoreland County Labor Council encouraged participants to join an expanded picket line at ATI’s Latrobe plant at 6 p.m. June 21.
Beavers told the Militant he thought the rally and expanded picket line were a great success. “Everyone here needed this. You can see the smiles on their faces,” he said.
The same day union negotiators met with ATI bosses. Afterwards, union officials reported that the company had rejected a union proposal around health care and that the company and union remained divided on wages, profit sharing, transfer rights, contributions to pensions and shutdown provisions.
Organize solidarity with the ATI strikers! Send messages of support or strike fund contributions to USW Local 1138 at 331 Market St., Leechburg, PA 15656; or USW Local 1196 at 1080 Brackenridge Ave., Brackenridge, PA 15014.