PORTAGE | A strike ended after seven weeks when workers reached an agreement with Neo Industries.
The steel service center's 22 employees went on strike in February, picketing in some of the harshest winter weather in recent memory, after the steel service center wanted to lay off about 10 union truck drivers and outsource their jobs to contractors.
After weeks of negotiations, Neo Industries still will lay off the truckers, but agreed to bump their severance pay to $10,000 each after initially offering as little as $500, said United Steelworkers District 7 director Mike Millsap. The remaining production workers will get 2 percent higher wages and and $1,500 signing bonuses as part of the new five-year deal.
But the key issue was getting a fair severance package for the truck drivers, Millsap said. The truck drivers should be able to find new jobs, but would not have been able to cover their household expenses for very long with the $500 to $1,000 they had been offered in severance pay, he said.
"We recognize the company had to change its operations, but now they have some money to pay the bills and time to find jobs with good working conditions," Millsap said. "It was about fairness for the drivers. The production guys stood up for them and their families. It was about solidarity. We showed that we will stand up and fight for one another and not turn our backs on each other."
Union workers from around Northwest Indiana rallied around USW Local 2003, which mounted its first strike in six years. They came out to the plant on Willowcreek Road daily to provide pizza, coffee and donuts, and they donated money to the striking workers.
"We're very proud of the fight the members made," he said. "They stuck together through one of the worst winters. All the steelworkers around the lake rallied around them, and we showed these companies that we are going to fight for fairness, and for the working people."
Production was not disrupted at the plant, which puts chrome plating on rolls of steel for all the local mills, including the nearby ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor and ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor facilities.
"It was unfortunate that the strike occurred, but we were able to take care of our customers," company president Kevin Walsh said. "It's important that production was not impacted during the strike, and we were able to meet all our customers' requirements. We're going to put the situation behind us and moving forward with our guys back inside the plant. They're good guys, and we look forward to moving forward toward a long future with them."
Both sides agreed to drop complaints that had filed with the National Labor Relations Board as part of the new contract.