Hundreds of steelworkers rallied Friday afternoon in downtown Gary to protest the layoffs of about 75 workers and pay cuts for about 200 more.
United Steelworkers union members marched to the gates of U.S. Steel's Gary Works steel mill, where the union says the company gutted its maintenance department after the consulting firm McKinsey recommended hiring contractors to do maintenance instead. In addition to the layoffs, the company reassigned 200 workers to a work gang where they're making at least $3 or $4 less per hour.
"We're not going to let two or three people in this corporation get rich off the backs of our families," USW Local 1066 President Billy McCall said. "That's not going to happen. None of us here are going to tolerate it. They need to realize they're not dealing with a few people. They're dealing with two or three thousand people."
U.S. Steel has declined to comment. Despite cost-cutting efforts, the Pittsburgh-based company lost $1.5 billion last year and has failed to turn a profit during five of the past six years.
Last year, the steelmaker sent layoff notices to 9,000 of its 35,000 workers worldwide, though not all lost jobs and some have since been recalled. Earlier this year, it cut 25 percent of its non-union workforce.
United Steelworkers Local Union 1014 President Rodney Lewis said steelworkers are fed up.
"McKinsey has come in this place and they have told each and every one of you we can do four people's jobs with one person because we need to make more money," he said. "I promise you, your leadership will not stop fighting to make sure this place this place is safe. We will not let a group of consultants walk in and take this floor. This is our mill."
The union has filed a grievance to appeal the layoffs and reassignments, which USW District 7 Director Mike Millsap said violated the contract they just negotiated. An independent third-party arbiter will decide whether the contract would permit the layoffs.
Millsap said the union does not want to tell U.S. Steel how to manage the company but wants to opportunity to at least negotiate before any layoffs take place.
"We are a fighting union," he said. "We will not give up our jobs. We will not give up our safety."
Union members are worried about safety at the mill if there's no permanent staff to do preventative maintenance, such as to ensure cranes don't topple over, Millsap said. Hundreds of work orders have been going unfilled since the layoffs started a few weeks ago.
"Every workplace has work hazards that employers and employees must be aware of," he said. "In a steel plant, those hazards are much greater. The risk is much higher for employees."