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USW 'makes slow progress' with U.S. Steel

USW workers march through downtown Gary for a fair contract last month.

The United Steelworkers union and U.S. Steel have been meeting frequently in Pittsburgh after union members authorized a potential strike and the company released a six-year contract proposal that would include annual raises of at least 2 percent but strip away health care benefits and create a two-tier pay and benefits system.

The union said progress is being made on negotiations.

"Progress is coming slow and the company continues its financial engineering, manipulation and shifting the package around, but it’s always with the same sleight-of-hand outcome of trading bonuses, benefits and wages against each other," USW said in an update to members. 

U.S. Steel offered a bonus of up to $19,000 that the union said included upcoming profit-sharing workers were entitled to anyway, but the union has been concerned especially about losing benefits, including steep out-of-pocket health care costs for both workers and retirees.

"We have also made it crystal clear to the company that they cannot try to buy a contract with the active workforce that brings hardship to our retirees, nor one that creates second-class citizens out of those new hires who will become members of our union in the future," the USW said in an update to members. 

U.S. Steel employees have not had a raise for three years and hope for higher wages now that the company emerged from the steel industry downturn to turn a profit of $214 million, or $1.20 per share, in the second quarter. The steelmaker has been looking to reach a deal that would keep it profitable and competitive.

Union leaders said they hope to avoid a strike but will do so if necessary.

"Your bargaining committee is standing strong and resolute on these issues, and we are prepared to fight for them no matter what shape that fight takes," USW said in an update to members. "We will exhaust every single possibility to find a solution that works for us, as an entire union, before we take the steps to safely shut down the plants and operations. But the company needs to know that we are prepared to do so if they don’t start getting realistic about what they expect they can accomplish in this round of bargaining."

USW Local 6103 President Michael Young in Portage said the union wasn't interested in concessions, such as stripping new hires of sickness and accident benefits and a 40-hour work week guarantee.

"We didn’t come into this negotiation looking for a fight. This should have been a simple negotiation," he said. "A raise, a signing bonus, a pension contribution, and leave our healthcare alone."

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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.