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USW says it stood up and demanded fair treatment

Thousands march along Broadway en route to the gates of U.S. Steel to a steelworkers rally in Gary on Aug. 21. The United Steelworkers union and the company entered a new three-year contract.

The United Steelworkers union said it held out in contract talks until it got a fair deal from U.S. Steel.

"This has been a difficult year and a difficult round of bargaining, but I am proud of the way the brothers and sisters of the USW stood up and demanded fair treatment," USW International President Leo Gerard said.

The new three-year contract must be ratified by members of 26 union locals at facilities such as Gary Works, East Chicago Tin and the Midwest Plant in Portage. The process is supposed to take several weeks.

The USW's contract with the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker expired in September. U.S. Steel likely was under pressure to get a deal done by the end of the year, so it can write down any added labor costs to its anticipated fourth-quarter losses, New York City-based steel industry analyst Charles Bradford said.

Both sides ultimately benefit if a new contract is ratified, Bradford said.

"Nobody wins in a strike," he said.

Details have not emerged yet, but U.S. Steel says the new three-year contract for 18,000 workers is in the best interest of shareholders, while the USW says steelworkers aren't shouldering the full burden of the downturn.

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"Our members were determined throughout this process not to be made scapegoats for the problems of unfair trade and global overcapacity," USW International Vice President and Bargaining Committee Chairman Tom Conway said.

Cheap and often subsidized imports have seized a record 30 percent of the U.S. market share, prompting domestic steelmakers to file multiple trade cases. The collapse in crude oil prices, which hit an 11-year low of $34.20 Monday, also put a halt to the oil and gas drilling that had been a cash cow for U.S. Steel during the downturn.

The steelmaker has laid off workers around the country and idled facilities such as Granite City Works near St. Louis. U.S. Steel had wanted to slash health care benefits, which the union said would have resulted in less coverage and thousands of dollars more a year in out-of-pocket expenses.

What expenses either side made are not immediately clear. The union and steelmaker do not plan to release details of the new agreement until after ratification.

District 7 Director Mike Millsap, who represents steelworkers in Indiana and Illinois and served on the bargaining committee, said the union would keep working with U.S. Steel to fight unfair trade.

"As we move on from a difficult round of bargaining, we look forward to building on this collaborative relationship with the company to address the problems that have led to this crisis," Millsap said.

During the last round of negotiations in 2010, U.S. Steel reached a deal with the union first before Northwest Indiana's other big steelmaker, ArcelorMittal. ArcelorMittal took a harder line last time, but ended up caving in the end, Bradford said.

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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.