USW gives authorization to strike

WEIRTON — The United Steelworkers have given authorization to strike ArcelorMittal USA if negotiations fail to reach an agreement.

With nearly 400 total attending any one of three meetings held Monday at USW Local 2911 hall on West Street, unanimous support was given to the strike authorization, which union officials have emphasized is not calling for a strike but a step in the negotiations process.

Mark Glyptis, USW Local 2911 president, said contract talks will resume Thursday in Pittsburgh.

“Our goal is to negotiate with the company and our negotiators to try to meet the original goal, which is a fair contract for our constituency, whether you are an active employee or a retiree, whether you are a very young employee or a very senior employee.”

The Steelworkers say they provided concessions during the difficult steel market when the last contract was negotiated in 2015, but the situation is different now, with high profits for the company.

“We didn’t get a dime increase in our wages, and now, profitability is high and we believe we deserve a fair contract,” Glyptis said.

The union is seeking to maintain health care coverage at current levels while the company has proposed higher premiums and copays for workers and retirees.

Glyptis said retiree coverage shouldn’t be impacted because of the VEBA plan that covers retiree benefits. The company is covered beyond a cap that it pays into the VEBA.

“We do not believe we should look at concessions there. That becomes a complex issue, but it is one for which the company is overreaching,” Glyptis said. He said the VEBA’s finances are strong and well invested.

He said the Steelworkers also want to protect their 40-hour work week and to see a reduction in contracting out, with more work done in-house.

“That would reduce the number of contractors coming into the plant and essentially taking our jobs,” he said.

He is hopeful that the negotiations will move forward.

“My hope is the company is going to recognize that it is in the best interest of all involved, the company as well as the employees, to negotiate a fair contract,” Glyptis said. “We have a very reasonable and seasoned negotiating team. Many members have been negotiating contracts for decades. This is nothing new to our team.

“We think a fair contract in today’s environment is not an unreasonable request. We should not be in a concessionary mode. Three years ago, we did what we had to do to reach an agreement beneficial to the company and our employees,” Glyptis said. “Now, things are much better and we feel the company should be fair with us and give us a contract that is fair to the employees. I feel we can get there. I really do.”

For its part, the company has not updated its negotiations statement on its announcements page on the ArcelorMittal USA website since Aug. 31.

In laying out its reasons for the strike authorization vote, the USW says concessions in the proposed three-year agreement would more than wipe out any proposed pay increases and calls for rejection of the proposal.

On its website, the USW said ArcelorMittal will make “huge profits this year” and projections for the market and steel industry are positive for future years. The union says there is not a comprehensive plan for future viability and sustainability of the company’s facilities.

Steelworkers did not have a raise through the last three-year contract because of market conditions that resulted from unfair trade, the union said.

According to the website, the company proposes workers pay $198 a month for family health coverage, not including out-of-pocket increases that result from higher deductibles, higher co-payments and specialty drug costs. The union estimates the changes would cost the average employee an additional $750 a year.

In a three-year contract, employees with families would pay more than $7,100 on health care premiums, the union said, plus an average of $2,200 in out-of-pocket expenses.

New hires would be forced into a high-deductible plan, the USW said, covering 80 percent of most services with families to pay $3,000 out of pocket before the plan kicks in. Current employees are being given the option of this plan, the USW said.

The company also reserves the right to reduce health benefits in the event the federal government enacts the “Cadillac Tax” health benefit provision.

For retirees, by the end of the contract, those not on Medicare yet, as well as those who retire in the future, would, along with their families, be hit with premium increases of $440 a month, more than double what’s currently offered, the union said. The increase for single retirees not on Medicare and those who would retire in the future would see a $220 a month increase.

Retirees currently on Medicare and their spouses would see an increase to $220 a month by the end of the contract and single retirees would see the increase to $110. Both are more than double what retirees pay today, according to the USW’s report on the offer.

The Steelworkers said the premium increases for retirees save no money for ArcelorMittal because the Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association plan, commonly called VEBA, covers retire healthcare costs over the amount the company is obliged to spend. The VEBA is better funded than it was three years ago, the Steelworkers said, with a balance of more than $600 million, all due to changes made during the last round of bargaining in 2015.

The union’s report on negotiations also says the company has been delaying during negotiations and is not providing information on a timely basis that would allow the USW to formulate “informed counterproposals.”

Other items cited by the union in the proposal as concessionary include lower vacation pay, changes in bonuses and incentives, contributions to pension funds that do not improve the pensions, elimination of supplemental unemployment benefits for members with less than three years of service. At Weirton, that would include hundreds of people hired during the past three years. In the event of layoffs, workers would have to work two weeks when called back to restore one week of SUB benefits ahead of another layoff.

The company also wants workers to use or change scheduled vacations for plant outages, schedule safety meetings outside the regular workday or work week, disqualify employees for overtime for the remainder of the week if they call off or do not come out to work as scheduled.

The USW said it has offered wage proposals consistent with gains in the manufacturing sector and notes the wage freeze its members accepted in the 2015 agreement.

“Unfortunately, the company’s offer is only halfway there,” the union stated.

The union is calling for better dental coverage to cover higher costs for procedures and noting the plan has not “had improvements in years.”

The USW has about 15,000 workers at ArcelorMittal in 13 locals in several states. There are about 800 members in Local 2911.