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USW: 'Challenging days ahead' in U.S. Steel contract negotiations

The USW march outside U.S. Steel Gary Works in Gary in 2016.

U.S. Steel and the United Steelworkers have made progress on local issues at the mills before resuming talks in Pittsburgh this week.

"We know it's still early in the bargaining process, but we also know that we're going to face some challenging days ahead," the union said in an update to steelworkers. "That's why we'll need the solidarity of every member in every plant across the country, starting from the very beginning and for as long as it takes to win a fair and equitable agreement."

The current contract, negotiated in 2015, will expire on Sept. 1.

The union and Pittsburgh-based steelworkers have spent the last few weeks discussing local plant-specific issues at mills such as Gary Works, East Chicago Tin and the Midwest Plant in Portage.

"Bargaining committee members spent time this week meeting with company representatives, working to resolve remaining local issues," the union said in an update to members. "Progress on local-legal issues so far has varied by facility. Some of these issues will ultimately be referred to the full committee to address."

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Over the past week, union negotiators have held internal discussions about local issue bargaining, as well as meeting with company representatives.

"While local-level discussions continue, we have also begun to focus on committee-level issues such as pensions, benefits, contract language, safety and health, training and staffing," the USW said in the update to members. "The committee divided into several subcommittees that will focus more specifically on those issues."

USW steelworkers got no raises over the last three years, but largely preserved benefits U.S. Steel wanted to strip away to lower its labor costs during the last round of contract talks.

The union is negotiating from a stronger position than in 2015, when U.S. Steel was being battered by cheap imports and had lost $1.5 billion the previous year. The federal government has since imposed several rounds of tariffs, including the 25 percent across-the-board Section 232 tariffs, and imposed new laws to prevent bad actors from cheating trade laws.

Hot-rolled steel band sold for as little as $412 a ton in the United States in 2015, but is now selling for around $905 a ton, according to the SteelBenchmarker pricing website.

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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.