U.S. Steel has recalled about 75 maintenance workers who were laid off at Gary Works this summer, after union protests about safety and two deaths at the mill.
But many of the 230 maintenance workers who were demoted with cuts in pay of $3 an hour to $9 an hour remain in labor gangs, United Steelworkers District 7 Director Mike Millsap said.
The USW filed a grievance that contended the layoffs weren’t allowed under the new contract, but wasn’t able to finish the arbitration in one day, Millsap said. The union, Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel and an arbiter will meet again in early December to continue the hearing.
A third-party arbiter will decide whether to grant back pay to the laid-off maintenance workers and if the demoted workers should be restored to their previous pay grades, Millsap said.
“I think we went overtime because we did a good job of putting forward our cases,” he said. “What happens will depend on what the arbiter does.”
U.S. Steel declined to comment on the recalls or the arbitration.
“You’d have to ask the company, but I think U.S. Steel just realized it couldn’t do what it wanted to with the layoffs,” Millsap said. “Everybody’s been called back.”
The union said U.S. Steel, acting on the advice of the consultant McKinsey and Co., eliminated many permanent maintenance positions at the mill on the shore of Lake Michigan, in Gary, the company’s largest integrated plant. Workers were laid off or demoted into roving labor gangs where they were no longer responsible for maintaining particular areas of the sprawling mill but were dispatched around as needed.
USW officials said that presented safety concerns because workers were thrust into unfamiliar areas and rushed to complete tasks. Valparaiso resident Charles Kremke, 67, died of accidental electrocution at Gary Works on June 15. Then steelworker Jonathan Arizzola, a 30-year-old Valparaiso resident, died in a crane accident at the mill on Sept. 30.
The union also is arguing the layoffs weren’t permitted under the new three-year contract it just reached with U.S. Steel in December.