Clock ticking as USW negotiations near end

2012-08-29T19:00:00Z 2012-10-01T16:44:07Z Clock ticking as USW negotiations near endBowdeya Tweh, (219) 933-3316

Members of the United Steelworkers bargaining team are hopeful the union and United States Steel Corp. soon can reach an agreement on a contract and avoid a work stoppage, according to information distributed to members Wednesday.

However, union officials negotiating a new contract with ArcelorMittal told members the company isn't backing off its "laundry list of concessions and contract changes" and doesn't agree with the path of bargaining.

With contracts running through midnight Sept. 1, the union told its members progress was being made on crucial issues and workers should plan to attend work at U.S. Steel plants as scheduled until the deadline. If workers are required to take other actions, the bargaining team said union representatives would notify them.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Courtney Boone declined to comment on the state of negotiations.

The cost of retiree health care has been a major issue in bargaining with U.S. Steel, and the union said it wants to maintain the availability of quality and affordable coverage for its current and future retirees.

Union bargaining teams had not sought the authorization to strike from represented workers at U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal plants as of Wednesday afternoon.

In a Friday bargaining update, ArcelorMittal said it started the process of taking "asset preservation steps" at its facilities should a work stoppage occur. The company said the measures are consistent with practices during past negotiations. These measures could include preparing furnaces for shutdown.

The union said the company has proposed a two-tier system in which new employees aren't offered a pension and are paid a lower wage for six years. For bar and long products operations, which includes those at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor, the company proposed a permanent lower pay tier for new workers.

"We cannot and will not go down this path," the update sent to members Wednesday said.

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