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USW locals at Gary Work vote to authorize strike

Steelworkers rally Thursday in downtown Gary for a fair contract last week.

Steelworkers at Gary Works voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize a strike if the United Steelworkers union can't reach a deal with U.S. Steel.

Thousands packed union halls across the country, and both USW Local 1014 and USW Local 1066 voted to authorize a strike at a time when U.S. Steel has demanded concessions, including cuts to health care and retiree benefits and no raises for the last three years of a six-year contract. Steelworkers at U.S. Steel's Fairfield, Minntac, Clairton, Keetac, Lorain and Great Lakes facilities also backed a strike authorization as the union looks for raises, job security and the preservation of health care benefits.

USW Local 1066 workers voted 1,055 to 0 for strike authorization with all but only a few hundred members voting, President Mark Lash said.

Thursday, workers at East Chicago Tin, the Midwest Plant in Portage and other U.S. Steel facilities are voting to empower the union leadership to call a strike if negotiations remain stalled.

Steelworkers have gone three years without raises. The last contract was negotiated during a major downturn in the industry, but union leaders and workers have expressed frustration that executives took home bonuses when the company was bleeding money and they were sacrificing. 

United Steelworkers Local 6103 President Michael Young said workers helped turn U.S. Steel's fortunes around, including by lobbying for tariffs and implementing the company's Carnegie Way cost-cutting measures, and now deserve to share it its profitability. U.S. Steel expects to make $1.8 billion this year and announced it would invest $750 million into Gary Works over the next five years.

"We negotiated Investment commitments in our contracts with U.S. Steel to force the company to invest in our mills," he said. "Yet as recently as 'the big investment announcement' for Gary Works not once did our CEO mention their contractual union investment obligation or the work of their most valuable asset, their employees. The union and its members sit on the sidelines while corporate splatters the press on how much they care for this company and our community."

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Meaghan Cox said the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker, one of Northwest Indiana's largest and longest-lasting employers, did not anticipate a strike and was continuing to negotiate with the union past the expiration of the contract on Sept. 1.

The results of the voting in East Chicago and Portage were not immediately available by press time.

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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.