CREDIT: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Len Boselovic
United Steelworkers union locals across the country overwhelmingly moved this week to give their union management the power to strike against U.S. Steel, with the last votes coming Friday night at plants in Indiana, according to a USW spokesman.
The final strike authorization poll was held at a meeting of office, technical and plant protection workers at U.S. Steel mills in Gary and East Chicago, Ind.
The USW local representing workers at the Pittsburgh steel producer’s coke plant in Clairton unanimously authorized a strike on Wednesday. Meetings Thursday at the company’s Edgar Thomson plant in Braddock and Irvin plant in West Mifflin yielded similar results.
A contract covering more than 16,000 USW members at U.S. Steel plants around the country expired Sept. 1. For the time being, the company and union have agreed to work under the terms of the expired contract.
The outcome of the voting indicates the union’s willingness to walk out after giving notice 48 hours in advance if the company does not improve its offer.
“Our members are prepared to strike once the 48-hour notice is given by our International leadership,” said Don Furko, president of USW Local 1557, which represents about 1,150 workers at the Clairton plant.
While the voting does not automatically mean the USW will do that, it signals a level of militancy that has caught some industry analysts off guard.
There hasn’t been a work stoppage at U.S. Steel since a six-month lockout in 1986.
When the prior contract expired in September 2015, the USW did not hold a strike vote.
Instead, operations continued under the expired contract until a three-year, retroactive agreement was ratified the following February. Union wages were frozen under the proposal — fueling USW demands for a more generous contract this time around.
Union officials also say the industry’s surge in profitability following President Donald Trump’s imposition of 25 percent tariffs on steel imports justifies a better offer.
U.S. Steel’s latest offer is a six-year contract that would provide wage increases of 4 percent in the first year, 3 percent in the next two years, and 1 percent in the fourth year.
USW negotiators from the local unions are scheduled to return to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to resume bargaining.
Meanwhile, the tough talk is ramping up.
“The USW did not come to the bargaining table looking for a fight,” USW International Vice President Tom Conway said in an official statement. Mr. Conway leads the union’s bargaining committee.
He added, “We expect U.S. Steel to come to its senses and return to the bargaining table with workable proposals.”