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USW workers 'overwhelmingly ratify' new contract with U.S. Steel

USW members rally in August outside Gary Works for a fair contract.

While U.S. Steel originally demanded concessions, including higher out-of-pocket health care costs for workers and retirees, during collective bargaining talks earlier this year, United Steelworkers members held out for what they considered a fair contract.

They rallied, plastered "Union Strong" signs in storefronts across the Region and voted to authorize a strike, threatening the largest work stoppage in the domestic steel industry since 1986.

"Your votes are in and counted, and we are pleased to announce that members have voted overwhelmingly to approve a new four-year contract with U.S. Steel," the union said in an update to members. "Our bargaining committee was able to achieve a strong agreement thanks to you. The solidarity of the entire membership — every member at every facility standing together — got us here, and we owe a great deal of thanks to all of our USW brothers and sisters."

USW members approved a contract that includes a 4-percent raise this year, 3.5-percent raises in 2019 and 2020, and a 3-percent raise in 2021, as well as a $4,000 signing bonus and no increase in health insurance premiums. The contract goes into effect immediately, since the last three-year contract expired on Sept. 1.

The union said the new pact also "maintains high-quality, affordable health care and strong retirement benefits," and "allows for much-needed capital investments into our facilities."

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The contract covers 14,000 steelworkers nationwide, including thousands at Gary Works, East Chicago Tin and the Midwest Plant in Portage.

“We believe these four-year agreements are fair and in the best long-term interest of all of our stakeholders," U.S. Steel President and CEO David Burritt said. "We are pleased to have reached this agreement with our USW represented employees."

The USW bargaining committee said it was able to ensure that health care will remain affordable for retirees through increased company contributions to workers' retirement plans.

The union made concessions during the last round of bargaining in 2015, agreeing to forego pay raises to help the industry through a major downturn caused by a record flood of cheap imports, due largely to China ramping up its steelmaking capacity right before an economic slowdown there. But more tariffs were imposed, steel prices soared and workers hoped to share in the newfound prosperity of U.S. Steel, which just turned a $291 million profit in the third quarter, double what it made last year.

"Three years ago, we recognized that the industry was experiencing a downturn and agreed to make sacrifices to ensure that the industry could make it through the tough times," USW said in the members' update. "This time around, we knew that things were different. U.S. Steel, and the industry as a whole, were thriving again, and we would not settle for a concessionary agreement. Because of your sacrifices and your solidarity, we were able to make sure that we could share in the company's success and get the contract we knew we deserved."

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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.