Metro-East News

Steelworkers expected to hold strike authorization vote as negotiations continue to stall

Steelworkers rally outside of U.S. Steel in Granite City.

Area steelworkers gathered outside of U.S. Steel in Granite City a day before negotiation deadlines. Steelworkers are fighting against increased health care costs and cuts on retirement among other issues. Union leaders are hopeful for a resolution.
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Area steelworkers gathered outside of U.S. Steel in Granite City a day before negotiation deadlines. Steelworkers are fighting against increased health care costs and cuts on retirement among other issues. Union leaders are hopeful for a resolution.

Steelworkers in Granite City and across the country were expected to vote Thursday to authorize a strike if negotiations with U.S. Steel continue to stall, though the company said it does not expect workers to strike.

Unionized workers say wealth at the top hasn’t trickled down past management since the industry recovered from a downturn that caused thousands of layoffs at Granite City Works in 2015.

U.S. Steel’s Granite City Works drew national attention recently when President Donald Trump visited the city to claim a victory in the return of 500 jobs to the steel mill. Tariffs on imported steel imposed by Trump’s administration contributed to the return of those jobs.

But the company has fought against a raise for workers and has watered down benefits for retirees, according to Dave Dowling, director of the United Steel Workers, or USW, Sub-District 2 in Granite City.

This comes after three years during which the union agreed to a wage freeze and other concessions to help the struggling company get back on its feet following a downturn in the market caused in part by a surge of cheap foreign steel.

“The industry was in crisis mode and the union and the members of the union recognized that and agreed to a contract that froze wages,” Dowling said. “U.S. Steel will make more money this year than it has ever made. Analysts predict the industry will be quite healthy for the foreseeable future and in the years ahead. These are not times to demand concessions in the view of the union.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Steel said the company does not expect a strike.

“Our plants continue to operate in a safe and orderly fashion. Talks are ongoing, and we continue to work diligently to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion,” spokeswoman Meghan Cox wrote in a prepared statement.

The company’s proposed six-year contract includes signing bonuses, base wage increases and health plan options, according to the proposal on the company’s website. Dowling, the union sub-district director, declined to specify how much of a raise the union wants, saying it’s “modest” and “tied to productivity.”

A strike authorization does not mean workers will immediately go on strike, Dowling said. The vote, if affirmative, only gives the union permission on behalf of its members to call for a strike.

Dan Bunker of the USW Local 68 said he hopes the president will stand up once again for workers.

“We are grateful having our jobs, now it’s up to the company,” Bunker said. “I hope Trump will say something to the corporation. You know, ‘Hey, I did all this for you guys. Work with these guys.’ ”

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

Dowling said he expects the union and the company to reconvene in Pittsburgh following the vote to resume negotiations.

“We’re seeking to maintain status quo in terms of our benefits for both active and retired (workers),” Dowling said. “A raise reflects the current status of the industry and the productivity improvements created by our members over the last few years.”

The company promised it would bring back an additional 300 jobs to Granite City Works by the fall.

The strike authorization vote meetings for the Granite City area’s three local unions were scheduled for 7:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Kelsey Landis: 618-239-2110, @KelseyLandis
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