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USW: ArcelorMittal negotiations making little progress

United Steelworkers members rally in Burns Harbor in 2015. The USW says ArcelorMittal contract talks have not resulted in much progress thus far.

The United Steelworkers union said it's been making little progress in contract talks with ArcelorMittal, which has been asking for concessions to bring down its labor costs.

The USW said in an update to members that negotiations in last week "yielded little progress."

"From local issues to major economics, ArcelorMittal has resisted engaging in meaningful dialogue," USW said in an update to members. "As Sept. 1 approaches, these delays could be used as a tactic by management to undermine the bargaining process. Nonetheless, we remain committed to negotiating a fair agreement in a timely manner."

ArcelorMittal just posted $1.9 billion profit in the second quarter, its best financial performance since 2011, but said the company largely has been losing money in the United States in recent years, where a flood of cheap imports have grabbed a near-record amount of market share. ArcelorMittal spokeswoman Mary Beth Holdford said ArcelorMittal USA did, however, turn a profit in the second quarter at a time when hot-rolled band is selling for about $900 a ton.

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The steelmaker has asked for a number of concessions such as cuts to health insurance, incentive pay, vacation pay, family and medical leave, pensions and supplemental unemployment. It wants its union employees to pay $200 a month in health care premiums, or up to $8,000 a year in out-of-pocket costs, which the USW is resisting.

ArcelorMittal, one of Northwest Indiana's largest employers said it wants to bring its costs more in line with other U.S. steelmakers.

"ArcelorMittal USA must achieve parity with other integrated steel producers, mini-mills and competing material producers," ArcelorMittal USA President and CEO John Brett said in a message to steelworkers. "While we’ve optimized our assets, invested hundreds of millions in (capital expenditures), and been successful at achieving our Action 2020 targets so far, our business here in the United States is still not cost competitive in comparison to other U.S. producers."

The USW has been seeking to leverage the turnaround in the domestic steel industry into a better contract than the one negotiated during the downturn in 2015, which included no raises and a profit-sharing plan that has usually resulted in no bonuses for steelworkers.

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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.