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USW planning rally outside Gary Works in downtown Gary

USW union members march from downtown Gary to U.S. Steel Gary Works in a protest in Gary in 2015.

With the current contract due to expire Saturday and little progress made during contract talks, the United Steelworkers union is planning a massive rally outside the gates of Gary Works.

The rally will take place at 3:45 p.m. Thursday at 1 N. Broadway in downtown Gary.

"Fair contract now! Stand up! Fight back!" a flier read. "Calling all union members and their families from Indiana to Illinois! U.S. Steel — stop cutting our healthcare! Enough of the unfair labor practices!"

U.S. Steel union-represented workers have gone years without raises, and the union hoped to reap the reward of the dramatic turnaround in the steel industry and rise in steel prices during this bargaining session.

But U.S. Steel, one of Northwest Indiana's largest employers, has still been asking for significant concessions, including cuts to health care and an eventual switch to profit-sharing bonuses in lieu of raises.

"Even after hourly employers have endured a three-year wage freeze, U.S. Steel is demanding a ridiculous long-term wage package, benefit cuts and crippling cost-shifting to its employees and retirees as part of any settlement," the USW said in an update to members.

"USW members have had their wages frozen for the last three years, while consumer prices have risen by 8 percent and private-sector wages have risen by 9.3 percent. The members of the USW at U.S. Steel have recognized the difficulties facing the industry and the company, but now that the steel market has improved, USS employees deserve a raise and a fair contract.

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"Wages have been stagnant in the United States but even so, the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data on wages have shown an average wage increase of 2.7 percent so far in 2018."

The union said U.S. Steel can afford to share the wealth with the workers who make its profits possible.

"U.S. Steel and the analyst community have the company on track to earn $1.8 billion this year and expect 2019 and going forward to be even richer years for them," USW said in an update to members.

"With market conditions and pricing the best they have been in a decade, this is not the time for U.S. Steel to pick an unnecessary fight with its employees and risk a labor dispute. It is irresponsible to its employees and its customers and to do this while the company expects to thrive in the coming years is inexplicable and inexcusable behavior."

USW said it's asking for moderate wage increases that are in line with increases in productivity and does not want confrontation. The union points to management not sharing in workers' sacrifices in recent years.

"Managers rigged their own bonus payments to ignore their lack of profits and instead gave themselves significant cash payments at all levels," USW said in an update to members.

"This was done while the company suffered serious financial issues due to unfair imports and the failure of management to invest in the maintenance and upkeep of the mills and equipment, causing them to suffer many operational setbacks. Management now boasts of their investment to finally revitalize the plants after starving them of necessary maintenance and equipment upgrades to meet the market needs."

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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.