ArcelorMittal notified the United Steelworkers union that it plans to lay off steelworkers at the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steel mill in East Chicago.
The Luxembourg-based steelmaker, which employs about 10,000 workers in Northwest Indiana, is idling the Indiana Harbor #3 blast furnace and the Indiana Harbor #4 blast furnace in East Chicago as well as the Cleveland #6 blast furnace, leaving it with just four blast furnaces running in the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.
The deadly viral outbreak has taken a major toll on the multinational steelmaker by shutting down auto plants across the country that account for roughly half the business at its integrated mills, including Indiana Harbor and Burns Harbor in Northwest Indiana.
"The company has mandated that all employees with less than two years be laid off. This is not in line with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Our interpretation is that the company must offer voluntary layoffs before anybody is involuntarily laid off," United Steelworkers Local 1010 President Steve Wagner said in a letter to union members.
"The union has demanded a layoff minimization plan that is in line with the CBA. If the company imposes their own layoff plan unilaterally, we will fight to get employees back to work as soon as possible. Also, as in the past, we will be fighting to get all probationary employees call-back rights when business conditions improve. All nonprobationary employees that get laid off already have call-back rights."
Wagner and ArcelorMittal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Multiple union members estimate the layoffs of those with fewer than two years potentially could affect hundreds of steelworkers at the mill in Indiana Harbor on the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The USW is objecting to the planned layoffs and also how the company has been handling its response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"The company is not following our Plan of Insurance & Benefits and recognizing employees quarantining at home as immediately disabling in regards to the 7-day waiting period," Wagner wrote in the letter to workers. "Under normal circumstances, the employees would be hospitalized and paid from day one.
"The company’s actions are encouraging sick employees to come to work and infect others. If the previous information isn’t upsetting enough, for laid off employees, the company also wants to take your weekly $600 Federal Stimulus unemployment insurance at a time when you and your family need money the most. We are disclosing this information to the membership after giving the company ample time to do the right thing. The process is ongoing and we will continue to communicate as information materializes."
Wagner urged the remaining workers at the steel mill to improve social distancing by keeping at least 6 feet apart and keeping groups to a minimum.
"We have been working to get the company to provide nonrespirator face masks/covers for several weeks. Now, there is an availability issue due to the lack of action on the company’s part," Wagner wrote.
"The company now states that masks are on order. In the interim, we recommend to provide and use your own face covers until supplies are available. Continue using social distancing, washing your hands, and cleaning your work and break areas. If we are not able to make the job safe, then we do not do the work. The right to refuse unsafe work has not changed."