July 29, 2008

Latrobe Steelworkers Return After 81-Day Labor Dispute

By Joe Napsha, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 29--Workers at Latrobe Specialty Steel Co. began returning to work Monday after an 81-day labor dispute that began May 1 and cost employees thousands and the company millions, officials said.

The company said it expects to have its full complement of workers who are members of United Steelworkers Local 1537 on the job today, said spokeswoman Lisa Pierce. How many workers returned yesterday was not available.

The company maintained production during the work stoppage using salaried and replacement workers. The union approved a five-year labor contract July 20 that took effect a day later.

"The mill will be fully manned with our experienced hourly (workers). The transition has been smooth so far," said Hans Sack, chief executive of Latrobe Specialty Steel, in a statement. Sack thanked salaried workers who helped to maintain production during the work stoppage but did not mention temporary workers the company hired.

The company told the union during negotiations that it had spent about $2 million for the first two months of the work stoppage, USW Local 1537 President Kevin Caruso has said.

The company declined to say how much it spent on the replacement workers and extra security personnel.

The labor dispute likely cost the 350 union members several thousand dollars each, based on the company's estimate that workers averaged about $56,160 in annual wages. Caruso could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The financial impact of the dispute on union workers was lessened by the fact that workers collected unemployment benefits as of May 9, after the state determined the dispute became a lockout when the company rejected a union offer to return to work. The steelworkers went on strike May 1 when their contract expired and they rejected a proposed contract.

Based on pay scales ranging from $20 per hour to $26 an hour for trade and craft jobs, workers might have received jobless benefits ranging from $482 a week to a top payment of $539 a week, according to state Department of Labor and Industry data.

The sting of the work stoppage will be softened on Friday when union members receive a $6,000 lump sum payment, as provided for in the new contract. The new deal does not offer wage increases or cost of living adjustments in the first two years, but workers will get a $5,000 lump sum payment in August 2009.

Latrobe Specialty Steel makes and distributes more than 350 grades of high-alloy specialty steel for the aerospace and defense industries.


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