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USW may ask for strike authorization against ArcelorMittal too

Steelworkers march outside the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor office in East Chicago last week.

Steelmakers have been demanding concessions, and a feisty United Steelworkers union is having none of it.

After thousands of steelworkers across the country voted to authorize a potential strike against U.S. Steel, the USW may ask for a strike authorization at ArcelorMittal mills nationwide as well. 

The union said contract talks have stalled and is threatening to return home and seek strike authorization from members if no progress is made by early next week.

"Three years ago, when steel prices bottomed out due to the unfair and illegal trade, management sought to unravel generations of collective bargaining progress with contract demands designed to reduce our standards of living and destroy the 'safety nets' negotiated to protect us from layoffs and plant closures," USW said in an update to members. "We resisted those concessions, and after almost 10 months of difficult negotiations, finally reached an agreement that provided enough flexibility for the company to survive the downturn — but more importantly — protected the security of our jobs, earnings, benefits and pensions."

USW said it has an efficient workforce that continues to improve productivity at sell mills across the country and that it lobbied Washington, D.C., for a crackdown on trade cheater that's resulted in a rebounded steel market where hot-rolled steel coil is selling for $900 a ton. ArcelorMittal turned a $1.8 billion profit in the second quarter, and the USW said the workers it represents deserve a share.

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"Rather than engaging in good faith negotiations for a fair contract, management continues to bring the same 2015 backward thinking proposals to the table, which of course are crafted to undermine everything we have sacrificed to achieve," USW said in an update to members. "Judging from its ridiculously inferior proposed healthcare plans and their refusal to make meaningful improvements in wages or pensions and their concessionary demands regarding supplemental unemployment, incentive, vacation pay and our hot-rolled steel bonus, ArcelorMittal clearly intends to test our solidarity and our commitment to achieve a fair and equitable contract."

The union plans to return home to give presentations at local union halls "if significant progress is not made by early next week." Members will get the chance to discuss the issue with their local elected leaders before the vote.

"Ultimately, our committee, after careful consideration, will determine if a strike is necessary only if other strategic alternatives to bring the company to its senses are unsuccessful," the USW said in an update to members. "Our jobs are worth fighting for thanks to the hard work and determination of those who came before us. As long as we continue to work together and stand together to fight for justice, we will win the fair contract we have earned and deserve."

ArcelorMittal spokespeople did not immediately return calls for comment. They have previously said they seek a contract that would keep ArcelorMittal USA competitive with other U.S. steel producers, including mini mill operators.

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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.