About 10,000 union steelworkers at ArcelorMittal mills in Northwest Indiana and Riverdale have been working without a contract for eight months, but the steelmaker and the United Steelworkers union have finally reached a tentative pact.

The union and the Luxembourg-based steelmaker have been at the bargaining table for a year trying to negotiate a new contract. The new pact, which would expire in September 2018, is expected to result in the idling of some finishing lines at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor in East Chicago, and more investment in others as ArcelorMittal seeks to make a dent in the overcapacity problem that’s dogged the industry globally.

Union leaders say the pact “preserves our economic security and other contractual protections.” The USW had been holding out against ArcelorMittal’s proposals to shrink health care benefits, increase retiree premiums, weaken severance pay, and scrap incentives for employees in Labor Grade 1 jobs. ArcelorMittal, which has been looking to cut costs after losing $8 billion last year, already backed off proposals for two-tier wages and health care, and to slash vacation pay, sickness and accident benefits.

No one is currently disclosing what concessions either side made in the tentative pact.

“Our negotiating committee is announcing that we have reached a tentative agreement with ArcelorMittal USA,” the union said in an update to members. “Recognizing the challenges facing our industry — mainly the result of historic levels of unfairly traded imports and a depressed market for our products — we committed very early in this process to address the company’s needs while protecting future generations and without burdening current or future retirees with unnecessary expenses.”

Workers would still have to ratify the new three-year contract. The USW says it will give members a summary for review, and schedule meetings at union locals to go over details.

The agreement covers more than 12,000 USW members at 13 ArcelorMittal plants in Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“We are pleased to have reached a fair and equitable agreement with the USW on a new three-year contract, however we are unable to comment on specific details out of respect (for) the ratification process,” ArcelorMittal USW CEO John Brett said. “After a lengthy negotiations process, we look forward to working with our represented employees to fight market pressures due to unfairly traded imports and create long-term value for all of our stakeholders.”

ArcelorMittal says it won’t provide any specifics until after union members ratify the new contract.


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.