United Steelworkers approve ATI contract
Union steelworkers overwhelmingly approved a four-year contract Tuesday with Allegheny Technologies Inc.
By a 5-to-1 margin, the 2,200 steelworkers at 12 ATI plants in six states approved a contract proposal from the company to end a six-month lockout, the first in its history.
Tom Conway, United Steelworkers International vice president and chief negotiator in the ATI talks, said the figures include all union locals for ATI Flat-Rolled Products division. He said more than 90 percent of the USW membership cast ballots.
Results of the vote were released about two hours after the 7 p.m. voting deadline.
“It's what I hoped for,” said Fran Arabia, president of Local 1196 in Brackenridge, the largest of the ATI locals. “There was too much at stake.”
Arabia said he was getting a feeling early on Tuesday that the contract proposal, which was revealed to the entire USW membership over the weekend, would be approved.
“I felt very confident because I didn't have people grumbling when they were coming into vote and also because of the ‘Thank yous,' ” Arabia said. “I can't tell you how many people said, ‘Thank you for standing up to the company and sticking this out.' ”
Contacted after the results were announced Tuesday, ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said, “We are pleased that the agreement was ratified. The actual timing for employees to return to work is subject to the National Labor Relations Board approval of the union's request to withdraw its pending charges and the outstanding complaint.”
Greenfield was referring to the complaint approved by the NLRB against Allegheny Technologies Inc. that was based on a total of 24 unfair labor practice charges lodged by the steelworkers, all of which were deemed valid by the labor board. ATI made withdrawal of the complaint and grievances part of the contract proposal.
Union officials said if that does not happen, it will scuttle the agreement and send the parties back to the bargaining table. But all of the contract provisions will be off the table. Conway doesn't think it will be a problem.
“When you know the NLRB and what they are trying to do, they combined the charges in an effort to get an agreement,” Conway said. “I think if we go to them and tell them, ‘We've got an agreement that will help resolve a lot of our problems,' I think they will go along with it.”
At Ernie's Bar in Brackenridge, a few doors down from Local 1196, union member Mike Kubican, 52, of Fawn was having a beer with other members of the local waiting for the ratification results. He said that having to withdraw the NLRB complaint may be why some members voted against the agreement, and that reflects anger and bitterness toward the company over the hardships they endured for six months.
“Given the business conditions right now, the economy, the dumping of foreign imports, I think we got the best deal we could right now,” Kubican said. “Although I would have liked to see some penalty for the company for what they did.
“I think that's why you had the ‘no' votes that you did: because they didn't like the idea of the company getting off scot-free.”
Nearly half of the Local 1196 members eligible to vote had done so by noon Tuesday. Local officials said at the end of the day, 88 percent of the more than 600 members had cast a vote. About 1,700 of the 2,200 ATI employees work at six plants in Pennsylvania.
The agreement will end a six-month lockout that began Aug. 15, following the expiration of the old contract on July 1. Union members continued to work on a day-to-day contract extension until ATI management closed the door on them, then brought replacement workers to do their jobs.
Bargaining between the two sides began in mid-May. Union negotiators said the company would not move far from its original 140-item proposal that stunned the steelworkers with demands that included abolishing the 40-hour work week and eight-hour workday.
Mary Ann Thomas contributed to this story. She and Yerace are staff writers with the Tribune-Review. Yerace can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thomas can be reached at 724-226-4691.