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Union asking members how to proceed

Thousands attend a union steelworkers rally in Gary last month. The USW is asking its members how to proceed in negotiations that have dragged on beyond the expiration dates of previous contracts.

United Steelworkers meetings have been taking place in Burns Harbor, Gary and all across the country as the union looks at what to do next in negotiations with U.S. Steel.

"Members of our USW bargaining committee have been holding meetings with our brothers and sisters at U.S. Steel locations around the country, reviewing the company's and the union's most recent contract proposals, discussing the status of negotiations and getting feedback from members about what our next steps should be," the union said in a recent update to members. "Though there has been no significant progress to report on bargaining in recent days, talks will continue, and we remain committed to bargaining for as long as it takes to reach a fair agreement."

Contract talks with ArcelorMittal are in a similar place after the Luxembourg-based steelmaker, the world’s largest by production volume, walked away from the bargaining table, according to the union. Both the union and company have expressed hopes negotiations can resume as they look to avoid a work stoppage.

Steel jobs pay better than average, and the American Iron and Steel Institute estimates every job in the steel industry supports six more, so any strike or lockout could potentially have a huge ripple effect on the Northwest Indiana economy.

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Both U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal have declined to comment on ongoing negotiations. ArcelorMittal has however said it needs to cut its operating expenses after losing an average of $294 million a year in North America, when capital expenses are factored in.

The union says both companies are trying to take advantage of the current import crisis, and use it as leverage in bargaining talks. Imports have captured a record 31 percent market share so far this year, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.

"No matter what the company claims, we know that gutting the wages and benefits of hard-working union members is not the answer to the current crisis," the union said in an update to members. "Instead we must work together to combat the devastating effects that unfairly traded imports, global overcapacity and currency manipulation have had on our American steel industry."

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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.