BURNS HARBOR | Union members continued to press ArcelorMittal on Wednesday to bargain fairly with negotiators and withdraw contract proposals they say will threaten the futures of employees and retirees.
The United Steelworkers organized rallies at ArcelorMittal's U.S. plants Wednesday to show solidarity among members while union negotiators continue to bargain in Pittsburgh for a new contract with the world's largest steelmaker. Although a four-year labor agreement between the USW and the company ended Sept. 1, about 14,000 production, maintenance, office and technical workers are continuing to work under the previous agreement.
ArcelorMittal said Sept. 1 it was optimistic about reaching a fair and equitable contract with United Steelworkers and that negotiations were continuing.
A Wednesday afternoon post on the Facebook page of USW Local 9231, which represents workers at ArcelorMittal-Nippon Steel joint ventures in New Carlisle, said the union was close to reaching agreement on all issues in Pittsburgh. The contract for I/N Tek and I/N Kote is negotiated separate from the basic labor agreement covering workers at ArcelorMittal U.S. facilities including those in Burns Harbor, East Chicago, Gary and Riverdale.
United Steelworkers spokesman Tony Montana said he couldn't comment on the Facebook posting but said some of the terms in that contract such as wages can't be settled until the master agreement is agreed on.
The USW and U.S. Steel Corp. reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract Sunday that covers more than 16,000 employees.
About 200 union members, mostly from United Steelworkers Local 6787, held signs and called for support from passers-by Wednesday afternoon outside of ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor plant gates. Union members said a few hundred people participated in an informational picket earlier in the day.
"There's a legacy of people who gave up their lives and their health to make steel in this plant," said Jerome Davison, an executive board member of USW Local 6787. He said the company's current proposals would abandon promises to ensure care for employees after their sacrifices.
In bargaining updates sent to members this week, the union said the company's request for certain concessions is delaying progress. The union said ArcelorMittal doesn't want to "properly fund" the Steelworkers Benefit Trust, which it said will lead to retirees paying higher health care premiums, maintain a $10,000 "kicker" for those entering the Steelworkers Pension Trust and fund the former Inland Steel Co. defined-benefit pension plan at a minimum level of 80 percent. Members also said they sought a modest increase in pay.
Wearing an antiright-to-work button on his shirt and standing outside the Burns Harbor complex, Indiana state Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, said he supported the union members' cause because they were fighting for good-paying jobs and access to health care. Moseley said small businesses should be concerned about what happens in negotiations because if steelworkers aren't able to maintain their standard of living, the ripple effect throughout the region would be catastrophic.
Del Smallwood, who has spent 36 years working in Burns Harbor as a steelworker, said ArcelorMittal's proposals are "a slap in the face" from a company that has earned billions of dollars.
Hobart resident Michelle Girgenti said Wednesday's activity is important to keep workers' spirits up and to let people know what union members are seeking from the company. Girgenti, who has worked 15 years at the Burns Harbor operation, said she's encouraged by the thousands of people banding together to fight for work and wage standards, following examples of union members from past generations.