July 19, 2008

Tentative Deal for United Steelworkers Union in Latrobe

By Joe Napsha, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 19--The United Steelworkers union at Latrobe Specialty Steel Co., which has been involved in a strike and lockout since May 1, reached a tentative five-year labor contract with the company Friday that provides its 350 members with a wage increase and lump sum payments, a union spokesman said.

The tentative deal between Local 1537 and Latrobe Specialty Steel provides the union with the right to reopen the contract to negotiate wages after three years, said USW spokesman Howard Scott. Details of the offer were not available last night.

Union leaders are expected to meet with members Sunday to explain the proposed settlement and conduct a vote, Scott said.

Kevin Caruso, president of USW Local 1537, could not be reached for comment.

Lisa Pierce, a spokeswoman for Latrobe Specialty Steel, could not be reached for comment.

The tentative deal resolves an issue that has been a major stumbling block to reaching a settlement -- the company's demand for a two-tier wage scale that would pay employees hired under the new deal about 20 percent less than current employees.

"The company's latest proposal was better than previous ones, especially for maintaining wage scales for newly hired workers," Scott said.

Latrobe Specialty Steel, which produces about 350 grades of specialty steel alloys for the aerospace and defense industries and tool-and-die market, pushed for the two-tier wage scales to remain competitive with other domestic companies that have similar wage scales, said Hans J. Sack, president of Latrobe Specialty Steel.

The steelworkers walked off their jobs on May 1 after rejecting a proposal that would have given them $16,000 in lump sum payments, spread over three years, in lieu of annual pay raises, but would implement a two-tier wage scale. The state Department of Labor and Industry ruled the strike became a lockout on May 9 when the company rejected the union's offer to return to work, with the right to walk off the job on a 48-hour notice.

The company said it had to maintain production and meet customer orders, so it hired replacement workers through a staffing agency to continue production. The USW said production during the lockout was less than with the regular work force.

The work stoppage at Latrobe Specialty Steel was the longest since the union went on strike for nine months from August 1977 through May 1978.


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