August 29, 2008

United Steelworkers Authorize Strike

By Joe Napsha

United Steelworkers members voted to give negotiators the authority to call a strike as contract talks continued Wednesday in Pittsburgh with ArcelorMittal in an effort to reach a settlement before their contract expires on Monday, the company said.

The union represents 14,000 workers at 14 ArcelorMittal U.S. steel mills.

USW spokesman Tony Montana declined to say whether the union would call a strike Monday if a settlement is not reached.

"ArcelorMittal is aware that the USW membership has voted for a strike authorization, however negotiations continue and we remain committed to working with the USW to reach a settlement by Sept. 1," the company said in a statement. ArcelorMittal said it has reached tentative agreements with the USW on many of the outstanding issues, but negotiations continue on a handful of topics.

Company spokesman Adam Warrington did not specify what issues are outstanding.

In the Pittsburgh region, steelworkers at ArcelorMittal's Weirton, W.Wa., plant overwhelmingly gave the leadership the authority to call a strike, said Mark Glyptis, president of USW Local 2911, which represents about 950 active employees and 42 on layoff.

"They were 100 percent behind the union," Glyptis said following one of two meetings with the membership. He declined to speculate on whether there would be a strike next week.

Steelworkers are looking for a contract that provides wage and benefit increases similar to those won by the USW in negotiations with Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corp., Glyptis said.

The USW has said it is seeking a reduction in health care premiums for retirees. ArcelorMittal wants a nearly 40 percent increase, the union says, while U.S. Steel granted a 30 percent cut in those premiums.

"ArcelorMittal makes a lot of money," Glyptis said. "Our members deserve a fair contract."

At Weirton, Glyptis said the union is pressing for capital investment in the plant. "We want to be the premier tin-producing plant in the U.S.," Glyptis said.

He declined to say what the union wants in terms of an investment, but the blast furnace at Weirton was shut down in 2005, resulting in the layoffs of about 700 workers. The tin-coating mill gets its steel from plants in Cleveland and Indiana.

ArcelorMittal is in the process of buying a coke-producing plant in Monessen from Koppers Holdings Inc. of Pittsburgh, but that deal is not expected to be completed until later this year.

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