Will workers at ArcelorMittal Steel go on strike if a new contract is not ratified when the current work agreement expires Sept. 1?
“We are keeping all our options open.”
That is the answer given by Tony Montana, United Steelworkers spokesman, when asked this week.
Union leaders have been in contract talks with ArcelorMittal officials since early July and the two sides are still far apart on key issues.
The company’s 14,000 workers — including those at the Georgetown steel-maker — will be without a contract if a new one is not ratified before the deadline.
One concern union leaders have is the company’s desire to reword language in the contract that would allow them to lay off workers at will.
The company also wants to be able to hire more contractors to do jobs inside the plants.
Also, the company wants to be able to stop paying incentives when market conditions are down, no matter how much steel is being sold.
And, the company wants to eliminate health care and pension plans for anyone hired after the new contract is in place.
Montana said “the maintenance of our plants and equipment” is also a concern that is being haggled by both sides.
“We continued to press the company on the need for real investment in our plants — beyond basic upkeep. We have pushed the company to specify upgrades and commit to funding them, independent of market conditions,” Montana said.
James Sanderson, head of the USW Local 7898 and a member of the negotiating committee, did not return calls this week seeking comment.
The Georgetown Times tried to talk to workers as they were leaving the local plant at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Most did not want to talk and the ones who did said they have been left in the dark about what is taking place in Pittsburgh, where the negotiations are taking place.
“We really don’t know much at all,” said worker Ricky Lambert.
Another man, who did not give his name, simply said “strike is in the air” as he walked to his car.
Paul Gipson, head of USW Local 6787 in Chesterson, Indiana, says the negotiations have been “ugly.”
Chesterson told the Chesterson Tribune this week none of the talks that have taken place so far have been about worker pay.
Gipson told the newspaper there may possibly be a strike or it’s possible the company may lock workers out once the contract expires.
Montana said he is encouraged by the unity being shown by workers.
“Our “Respecting Our Past, Securing Our Future” placards, stickers and tri-fold brochures have now been distributed and displayed at every plant and most locals are undertaking a variety of other solidarity actions, including rallies, picnics, and other ways of sending a loud message to the company that we are united and determined to achieve a fair and equitable contract,” he said in a membership update.
By Scott Harper
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