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U.S. Steel locks out 1,000 workers at plant in Canada

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By John D. Oravecz
Monday, April 29, 2013, 11:03 a.m.
 

U.S. Steel Corp. locked out union workers at one of its two steel plants in Canada after they voted to reject a final contract offer, marking the third time since the company acquired the plants in 2007 that contract negotiation have resulted in a lockout.

A United Steelworkers local that represents 1,000 workers at Lake Erie Works in Nanticoke, Ontario, rejected a final contract offer from the company last week. U.S. Steel locked the gates on Sunday.

“It's being viewed in this country as highly suspicious,” said Bill Ferguson, president of United Steelworkers Local 8782 in Nanticoke, who used the word “protectionism” as one reason for the latest lockout.

U.S. Steel Canada spokesman Trevor Harris did not return phone calls and an email request for comment.

For nine months from August 2009 to April 2010, the company locked out workers at the plant, described by the company as the “newest integrated steel facility in North America — and one of the most cost-competitive.”

Beginning in November 2010, workers at U.S. Steel's Hamilton Works in Ontario were locked out for 11 months. The union has nearly 1,000 members at the Lake Erie plant and about 2,000 in Hamilton.

Ferguson said on Monday that he believes the company will be shipping steel across the border to supply Canadian customers. Those customers “will probably turn to imports” from overseas instead of buying from U.S. Steel, he added.

“The price per ton at this plant is the most competitive within U.S. Steel and the steel community at large,” Ferguson said. “Total man-hour costs are lower here. It costs $4 more to keep an American worker working than a Canadian worker.”

The steelmaker and the union have been in talks for about five weeks, with their contract expiring on April 15. Workers voted last Tuesday to reject the company's final proposal by 70 percent of members voting, the union said.

Members objected to changes in their cost-of-living allowance, a new 10-percent copayment on medical benefits, and cuts in holiday pay premiums, Ferguson said. There also were concerns over seniority and work rules proposals.

U.S. Steel warned union members that a lockout would begin at 9 a.m. Sunday. On Monday, the union posted photos on its Facebook page of its members picketing.

“Lake Erie Works continues to lose large sums of money when other plants are making money,” said Jodi L. Koch, human resources director at U.S. Steel Canada, in a letter posted last week on the U.S. Steel Canada Inc.'s website.

In 2012, the plant, on the north shore of Lake Erie, produced about 10 percent of U.S. Steel's 23.6 million-ton global raw steel output.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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