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‘Angry’ U.S. Steel workers nationally overwhelmingly back a strike as talks resume

Steelworkers march in Gary last week. U.S. Steel workers across the country have voted to back a strike. 

U.S. Steel workers around the country, including in Gary, East Chicago and Portage, voted to authorize a strike if a new contract cannot be reached.

With the added leverage of a possible work stoppage at a time when steelmakers are making money hand over fist, the United Steelworkers union is returning to the bargaining table in Pittsburgh.

"Members sent the management at U.S. Steel a clear message: that the workforce recognizes the greed management has displayed in lining their own pockets," the USW said in an update to members. "We also know that workers have sacrificed to help the company over the past several years, and that the U.S. Steel bosses need to come to their senses, bargain in good faith and drop their ridiculous concessionary demands. Solidarity works, and this union knows that."

Rank-and-file steelworkers are fired up, according to the union.

"Angry USW members conducted strike authorization meetings at each U.S. Steel local over the past week," the USW said in an update to steelworkers. "Those meetings resulted in a massive show of solidarity, with huge turnouts across the country and an overwhelming 'yes' vote in every local. Many locals reported that their results were unanimous."

Locals at Gary Works, East Chicago Tin and the Midwest Plant in Portage all voted unanimously to strike.

After three years with no pay increases, the USW seeks raises at a time when the steel industry is booming, with hot-rolled coil selling for around $900 a ton, according to the pricing website SteelBenchmarker. But the union said the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker wants concessions, including more out-of-pocket health care costs, reduced retiree benefits and no raises in the last half of a six-year contract.

U.S. Steel said its offer means stability for workers, a $4,000 signing bonus, a minimum of $6,000 in profit-sharing and wage increases of 4 percent in the first year and 3 percent in each of the next two years. The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker said employees also would gain a $0.15 per hour gain to their 401(k) retirement plans.

The two sides failed to find common ground before the current three-year pact expired Sept 1. They'll resume talks next week, but the USW international leadership could decide to strike at any time.

"Our committee will be returning to Pittsburgh next week to resume negotiations with U.S. Steel management in an effort to reach an honest and fair settlement," the USW said in a statement. "As you know, management's proposals so far have been completely unacceptable, particularly in light of the company's projected profit this year of nearly $2 billion. We will be sure to keep all members informed of any progress we make at the table next week and of whatever next steps we anticipate."

The two sides continue to bargain under a 48-hour rolling extension of the current contract.

"That means the union will provide the company with at least two days' notice before any work stoppage could begin," the USW said in an update to members. "Continue to show up for work, work safely and watch out for each other in the mills."


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.