The main battle in the negotiations is over healthcare. Both companies are asking employees to contribute to their healthcare insurance premiums. ArcelorMittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal said in a recent interview that, in addition to wage-freezes and vacation concessions, the company is asking that individuals pay $150 and families $250 for monthly healthcare premiums. U.S. Steel representatives have requested similar concessions in its negotiations with the USW.
With the global steel market experiencing some of its toughest times in a generation, the September 1st deadline between steelworkers and the nation’s two leading steel producers is approaching quickly. U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal are talking concessions instead of new benefits, something that hasn’t happened in recent memory. Despite a sluggish economy in general during the 2008 and 2012 labor negotiations, steel prices were strong given both increased global demand and an oil boom. The strong steel market, largely fueled by hydrofracturing technology and the machinery required in order to mine new oil reserves, meant labor contracts became worker-friendly. This time however, steel prices have dropped 20 percent since January, largely due to the decrease in oil machinery sales in a sluggish energy market. Both companies have closed plants and laid workers off, with U.S. Steel reporting a $261 million second-quarter loss. ArcelorMittal spokesperson Bill Steers said about the negotiations, “We cannot base our 2015 contract on a hope that a return to a new steel and commodities boom is ahead.”
For many of the 30,000 members of the United Steelworkers Union (USW) affected by the negotiations for a three-year labor deal however; they view the sluggish market as a short-term event, and one that the manufacturers are trying to use against them in an opportunistic fashion. On its website, the USW writes that management is using a “temporary downturn in the domestic steel market as an excuse to permanently gut workers’ contract language and benefits.” As a call for solidarity, the union is planning marches throughout the steel belt next week. Among the locations for the marches include Steelton and Braddock, Pennsylvania, Gary, Indiana, and in the town of Virginia, Minnesota among several others. Negotiations already became contentious at three of Allegheny Technologies’ steel mills near Pittsburgh on Saturday night, where the plants shut out over 2,000 workers after the USW rejected the company’s “best and final offer” last month. Steelworkers assembled outside of the locked gates late Saturday into Sunday. The head of negotiations for the USW local 1138 Mike Abate said in an interview, “We’ll stand at our gates where we’d enter for work. We’ll maintain a presence at our facilities until they call us back to the table and we resolve our differences to gain a fair contract.”
The main battle in the negotiations is over healthcare. Both companies are asking employees to contribute to their healthcare insurance premiums. ArcelorMittal CEO Lakshmi Mittal said in a recent interview that, in addition to wage-freezes and vacation concessions, the company is asking that individuals pay $150 and families $250 for monthly healthcare premiums. U.S. Steel representatives have requested similar concessions in its negotiations with the USW. Workers are having a difficult time buying U.S. Steel’s contract proposal, largely due to CEO Mario Longhi receiving a $7.6 million compensation increase shortly after laying off 9,000 steelworkers. One steelworker speaking on the condition of anonymity said what many other workers believe, “They want us to give concessions, yet they make millions.” While the marches are expected to remain peaceful, the USW did issue a statement to members, writing “Misconduct on the picket line can also lead to an injunction against the union limiting our right to picket so it is very important that we all conduct ourselves in a safe and mature way.”
Chicago Tribune – Karen Caffarini
Tribune Review (Pittsburgh) – Liz Hayes
Wall Street Journal – John W. Miller