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United Steelworkers Local 6787 had a Christmas shopping spree for nearly 110 needy children Tuesday at the Target in Valparaiso.

The union local, which represents workers at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, gave each child $100 for toys and each family a $25 gift certificate to Strack & Van Til for a Christmas ham or turkey. Many families had parents on government assistance, between jobs, in jail or who are underemployed.

USW Local 6787, one of the largest union locals in Northwest Indiana, has been buying needy kids Christmas presents for more than 20 years but has ramped up its giving this year in anticipation of the upcoming contract talks.

President Pete Trinidad said the union wanted to build good will in the community to ensure support when the union negotiated new contracts with ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel next year. The union for instance raised money for the charitable event by selling small businesses around Porter County signs that said "Proud Supporters of Steelworkers for Kids" for $25 apiece, as a reason to go visit local merchants and inform them about the upcoming contract talks.

"They've very concerned about the round of bargaining coming up," Trinidad said. "We're the blood the pumps through the community's veins in Northwest Indiana. We volunteer at churches, in softball leagues, as volunteer firemen. The community knows negotiations are coming up and we need their support."

The current contracts between steelmakers and the United Steelworkers union expire on Sept. 1, and talks are expected to commerce months earlier.

During the last contract negotiations three years ago, union workers received no raises but landed profit-sharing and were able to successfully stave off reductions in health insurance benefits the steelmakers wanted. This time, members would like to see pay raises since they would otherwise go six years without any salary increase, Trinidad said.

The unions are in a much stronger bargaining position since hot band steel was around $380 a ton last time and now stands at about $600 a ton, but nothing is a given, he said. They've been working on community outreach because they don't know how tough the negotiations might get, or how long they've go on.

"People realize that because we have decent jobs and union wages we support local businesses," Trinidad said. "We stop at Quick Marts on the way to work to get a coffee. We take our families out for restaurant meals. The guy who cuts my hair said things must be doing a little better at the mill because people are starting to come in to get their hair cut."

Union members of course also have been giving to causes including Christmas presents for children in need and hurricane relief because they feel a responsibility to, Trinidad said.

"We understand we have good union jobs with decent wages," he said. "We're fortunate enough to work in a union environment and have that type of job, so we give back."


Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.