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USW: U.S. Steel withdraws 'worst proposals' that had union on cusp of striking

Steelworkers rally for a fair contract in Gary in August.

The United Steelworkers union said U.S. Steel has pulled back on its "worst proposals" to gut benefits that had steelworkers on the cusp of the first major strike in years.

"Members of our USW-USS bargaining committee held a series of discussions during the past week with company officials, during which the company showed significant progress on some of its worst proposals," the union said in an update to members. "While we still have a lot of work to do and still have a number of differences to work out with management, it’s clear that the strength and solidarity you have demonstrated over the past several months at all of our locations seems to have finally gotten through to the company."

U.S. Steel said it recently offered workers a 19 percent cumulative pay increase over the course of a 6-year contract, or about five percent more than the previous proposal. The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker said it offered $6,000 in cash bonuses on 401(k) contributions of up to $0.40 per hour worked by 2023, but last publicly announced the details of a proposal on Sept. 18.

The union has had major concerns with U.S. Steel proposals to strip away health care and retiree benefits. Union leadership has resisted saddling steelworkers with thousands of dollars more a year in out-of-pocket health care costs, especially when they work in such a dangerous and sometimes deadly environment.

But the two sides have made progress at the bargaining table.

"U.S. Steel has demonstrated a willingness to move off of some of its worst demands, including the term of our agreement and some of the most onerous benefits proposals," the union said in an update to members. "In order to build on that progress, our local leaders will be traveling back to Pittsburgh at the beginning of next week to resume face-to-face discussions with the company’s bargaining team."

The USW leadership stressed that, despite the progress, a mutually satisfactory agreement was not yet a sure thing.

"Remember, while we’ve made progress, this is not a time for any of us to relax," the USW said in an update to members. "The solidarity you demonstrated with our strike authorization votes a month ago, along with a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract for our brothers and sisters at Cleveland Cliffs, have pushed the company to this point. Our work is not yet done — we still don’t have the agreement that we all deserve, and it will take your continued support to get us there."

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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.