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Arbiter could decide to restore laid-off workers pay

USW union members march from downtown Gary to U.S. Steel Gary Works during a protest over layoffs of maintenance workers and mill safety in July. A third-party arbiter heard the union's grievance last week, and will decide whether U.S. Steel had the right to lay off the maintenance workers and if it owes them back pay.

A third-party arbiter held a hearing last week on a grievance the United Steelworkers filed against U.S. Steel for laying off about 75 maintenance workers at Gary Works this summer.

After union protests, Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel has since recalled all the laid-off workers at the mill on the Gary lakefront.

The USW originally filed the grievance while the workers were still laid off this summer, but is continuing to pursue its case to restore lost pay, USW District 7 Director Mike Millsap said.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Erin DiPietro declined to comment. The steelmaker has not commented at all on the layoffs or the grievance.

The union is arguing that the new three-year contract, approved by steelworkers with a three-to-one margin in February, wouldn’t let U.S. Steel lay maintenance workers off without at least first consulting with the union. Millsap hopes for confirmation that the company was out of line and to recover wages the workers weren't paid when they were laid off.

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The hearing last week was the second on the layoffs. The USW, U.S. Steel and the third-party arbiter had to reconvene after a first hearing earlier in the fall because the union’s case ran long. Millsap said a decision is expected within a few weeks.

The USW additionally filed a separate grievance over 230 maintenance workers at Gary Works who were placed into roving labor gangs, a demotion that cut their pay by at least $3 an hour. No hearing is yet set on that case.

The union vehemently protested cutbacks recommended by the consulting group McKinsey & Co. earlier this year, saying they endangered steelworkers at Gary Works. USW members said the cuts kept preventative maintenance from getting done, forced labor gangs into areas of the mill they were unfamiliar with, and rushed workers to the point where safety precautions weren’t taken.

Workers said they had been trying to warn the company about safety before the deaths of steelworkers Jonathon Arrizola and Charles Kremke in accidents at Gary Works earlier this year.

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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.