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USW to continue to bargain with U.S. Steel 'for a while longer'

Steelworkers march for a fair contract last month. The USW is resuming talks with U.S. Steel after some progress.

The United Steelworkers union said progress has been slow with U.S. Steel at the bargaining table in Pittsburgh, but that it will continue to negotiate for "a little while longer" since the company agreed to withdraw some points of disagreement.

The union, which has the member authorization to go on strike at any time, said proposed health care premiums would eat up wage increases, that wages would barely rise over the proposed six-year contract, and that it's unwilling to raid retiree funds or shortchange new hires.

"Some very difficult issues remain on the table," USW said in an update to members. "But because of this progress we are going to continue to bargain for a while longer to see if those gaps can be bridged and a strike can be avoided."

U.S. Steel has proposed workers pay $145 a month in premiums for health care and dental coverage, which would cost an estimated $10,440 over the life of the contract. But USW said it's making progress since the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker, one of Northwest Indiana's largest employers, had earlier wanted premiums that would start at $237 per month and rise every year. 

The union hopes to share more in the company's profits — $214 million in the second quarter — after agreeing to no wage raises during the last contract negotiations three years ago, when the American steel industry was struggling.

U.S. Steel has gradually been increasing its offers, most recently pitching a 4 percent raise next year, followed by 3 percent raises for the next five years. But the union said that doesn't make up for sacrifices workers made to help turn the company around.

"When you consider that we went the last three years without a wage increase and they are now proposing an additional six years, and then factor in their proposed premiums payment, the wage package is only worth about 1.7 percent increase per year over that time," USW said in an update to members. "USS also likes to talk about its proposal to pay two $3,000 bonuses, but one of them is 3 years down the road, and they are coming at a time of strong profits when the company should be willing to share that success with the workforce."

U.S. Steel expects to turn a profit of up to $1.8 billion this year, according to its most recent quarterly report.

"Our goal is to continue to negotiate and work with the USW toward a mutually agreeable conclusion," spokeswoman Meghan Cox said in a statement. "Our plants will continue to operate in a safe and orderly fashion."

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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.