Union workers at all 3 U.S. Steel mills in Western Pa. ready to strike
Several hundred more steelworkers in greater Pittsburgh voted Thursday to give United Steelworkers negotiators the power to call a strike as contract talks intensify between the union and U.S. Steel.
During several meetings held throughout the day and night, workers from the union chapters of Edgar Thomson Steel Works in Braddock and Irvin Works in West Mifflin decided unanimously that they’re ready strike if officials fail to reach a compromise soon, with the union dismissing the company’s newly revised pay and benefits package proposal as “far from fair.”
Unionized steelworkers who showed at each of this week’s voting meetings in Western Pennsylvania have all agreed to the strike authorization, in line with votes around the state.
About 700 union members from Western Pennsylvania’s third U.S. Steel plant — Clairton Coke Works — approved the move via verbal “yes” votes during three meetings held Wednesday.
“I’ve never been more proud to be a Steelworker,” said Don Furko, president of USW Local 1557, which represents about 1,150 workers of Clairton Coke Works, about 15 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. “We’re pitted in a corner, and it’s time for us to get our fair share.”
The contracts, last approved in 2015, expired Saturday.
Each side agreed to a contract extension while the union galvanized support for a possible strike through a series of voting meetings.
After three years of wage freezes, U.S. Steel’s initial contract renewal proposal, released in late August, called for a seven-year contract extension that included 3.5 percent raises this year, 2 percent raises next year and 1 percent raises in 2020, according to a summary posted to a union web page. After that, raises would be possible but not guaranteed.
The company’s updated contract offer calls for a six-year extension with a 4 percent raise in the first year; a 3 percent raise in the second; and a 1 percent raise in years four through six, with the option to earn an additional 5 percent bonus, the company said. Workers can choose from a no-premium health plan with up to $2,000 per year of company contributions, or a PPO plan for which the company pays 90 percent of the costs.
Union officials estimate the monthly health insurance premiums would cost $85 for a single worker and $237 per month for a family, with additional expenses piling up to as much as $2,000 or $4,000 more per year for families by the end of the contract.
U.S. Steel says it also is offering $6,000 in profit sharing, a $5,000 “health care transition bonus” and a $4,000 signing bonus payable 30 days after contract ratification — perks contingent on a deal reached by Sept. 22.
The union — which prefers a three-year extension — criticized the proposal as an example of U.S. Steel executives “trying to buy a long-term, very cheap deal with some upfront money to distract workers from long-term costs.”
The union further criticized executives of using “windfalls of tariffs and current industry climate that we helped to create to pay themselves even more.”
Previously, U.S. Steel had paid for workers’ health care coverage in full — a benefit that Furko believes employees deserve in exchange for the harsh working environments and health hazards that steelworkers encounter on a daily basis.
Around the country, not a single steelworker has voted against giving negotiators the leverage to strike, United Steelworkers national union spokesman R.J. Hufnagel told the Tribune-Review late Thursday.
Additional chapter votes outside Western Pennsylvania are slated to occur on Friday, with negotiations slated to resume next week.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.