ATI workers debate contract proposal after 3-month strike

By Malcolm Jarrett
July 19, 2021

BRACKENRIDGE, Pa. — The United Steelworkers union is organizing meetings of striking unionists at Allegheny Technologies Inc. to discuss a tentative four-year agreement reached by union representatives with the company, prior to strikers voting whether to ratify the deal. Some 1,300 workers at nine plants across five states have been on strike for a new contract since March 30.

According to the union, the deal provides workers with lump-sum payments and wage increases, and maintains a premium-free health insurance plan without a lower tier of benefits for new hires. Bosses had demanded workers pay health care premiums and insisted new hires would have to pay more for health insurance than workers already at the company.

No further details of the agreement have been released. Workers have not had a pay raise for seven years.

On the picket line here workers reacted to the agreement with cautious optimism. The strike was not only about health care and wages, Tim Reedy, who has worked in shipping for 15 years, told the Militant. “They were out to break the union.”

Reedy said he was looking forward to getting back to work.

As a result of closing down Steelworkers-organized plants, ATI now has a large nonunion operation in North Carolina. The company says it has over 4,500 employees in the Charlotte area alone. Less than 10% of ATI workers are union members today.

ATI “relented on the health care,” Joe Clark, another Brackenridge striker, said. “Something had to break soon. I think it was the fact that United Airlines bought 250 planes. Boeing gets a lot of material from ATI.”

‘Now is a good time to fight’

Karl Brendle, a striker at the Louisville, Ohio, plant, also said he thought new orders for materials to build planes had made bosses move to settle the strike. They have tried to run production at some of the struck plants with supervisors and replacement workers.

“If we don’t stand up, we’re going to get run over,” Brendle told the Militant by phone. “More people who aren’t union need to stand up. See the labor shortage at the moment? People are not interested in making $8 to $15. It’s a good time to get moving now. Bring everyone up with us.”

“Despite management’s repeated attempts to divide and conquer its workers, we showed once again that our solidarity is a tremendously powerful force,” said Steelworkers International Vice President David McCall.

The striking workers received widespread solidarity from members of the United Mine Workers, American Postal Workers Union, Greater Westmoreland County Labor Council, Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council, from workers at two Pittsburgh-area Walmarts, and other unionists.

ATI issued a statement welcoming the tentative deal.

No announcement has been made on the future of three plants ATI bosses say they plan to close.

Malcolm Jarrett is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Pittsburgh mayor.