Steelworkers picket in East Chicago
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com August 27, 2012 10:26PM
Jerry Dombrowski of Hammond (with flag) marches with other members of USW Local 1010 at Arcelor Mittal in East Chicago Monday afternoon. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 27, 2012 10:26PM
EAST CHICAGO — Hundreds of steelworkers and retirees jammed the sidewalks outside the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor main office Monday afternoon to urge the company to come to a fair labor agreement before their current pact expires at midnight on Sept. 1.
Many of the signs waved by more than 1,000 United Steelworkers members in attendance emphasized that the workers were “just practicing” and are not on strike, but the union and company are still discussing many issues — seniority, health care and pensions, to name a few — with only a few days left before the deadline.
Indiana Harbor, Indiana Harbor Long Carbon and Burns Harbor workers are covered under the master basic labor agreement, which covers 12 U.S. facilities and 12,554 employees. There are a variety of options available to steelworkers as the deadline approaches, including extending the current contract while a new one is negotiated or voting to strike.
In a bargaining update, USW characterized the negotiations as difficult, saying that “management shows no sense of urgency” and the company is challenging minor issues such as bereavement leave. The update said that the company wants “an agreement that would allow the company to turn our plants over to contractors and salaried ‘engineers’.”
In a statement, ArcelorMittal said it is in “continuous dialogue with the United Steelworkers and remains optimistic about reaching a fair and equitable contract with the USW without a work stoppage.” The company did not provide updates on specific issues being discussed.
“As a precautionary measure and consistent with measures taken during past labor negotiations, ArcelorMittal has recently begun the process of taking asset preservation steps at its facilities should a work stoppage occur,” the company said in its statement.
Hammond resident Randy Tretter, who works as a stocker in the slab yard, said that the previous contract negotiation came down to the wire in 2008, but it was extended for 30 days.
“(The company) is making money in North America,” Treter said. “We just received a profit-sharing check, so how can you not be making money.”
Burnham, Ill., resident Tonya Rice has only been working as a tractor driver for year and a half, and she said it’s important for the workers to march.
“All of these things that workers fought so hard for, for so many years, they’re now trying to take away from us,” Rice said, specifically mentioning lower company contributions toward health care and pensions.
Retiree Steve Ihasz worked at Inland Steel, which became ArcelorMittal, along with many members of his entire family, and he’s upset about the proposals to trim benefits.
“It’s a disgrace to tell us that we can’t have decent insurance,” Ihasz, of Crown Point, said. “They’ll reap the profits and squeeze the younger employees. Why should we settle for less?”