US steelworkers go on strike over unfair wages and work contract

Over 1,300 workers in nine plants of Allegheny Technologies have not received a raise since 2014. They have rejected the company’s offer and are seeking better terms

March 31, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Striking workers locked out of Allegheny Technologies hold a picket at one of the factories on Tuesday, March 30. Photo: United Steelworkers via Twitter

Steelworkers at one of the United States’ largest specialty steel mills have gone on an indefinite strike after failing to arrive at a fair work contract with the company. More than 1,300 workers at nine plants of Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) across five States started striking on Monday, March 29, rejecting last-minute offers from the company and began their picket of the company on Tuesday, March 30.

Workers organized by United Steelworkers (USW) have been in negotiations with the company headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a fair four-year work contract since January this year. The main point of contention has been the rate of wage hike. Workers at ATI have not received any raise since 2014 and have also accused the company of not coming to the negotiating table in good faith.

“We are willing to meet with management all day, every day, but ATI needs to engage with us to resolve the outstanding issues,” said USW International Vice President and chief negotiator for the workers, David McCall. “We will continue to bargain in good faith, and we strongly urge ATI to start doing the same.”

“Through generations of hard work and dedication, Steelworkers at ATI have earned and deserve the security of a union contract,” McCall said. “We cannot allow the company to use the global pandemic as an excuse to reverse decades of collective bargaining progress.”

The company’s last-minute effort to avert the strike offered workers a total of a 9% hike in their wages along with USD 3,000 first-year payments in their four-year contract. This fell far short of the demands of the USW which was USD 5,000 first-year payment, along with staggered hikes of 3%, 3.5% and 4% for the next three years of the contract.

Apart from the wage hike, workers have also put forward their demands on other matters, especially those concerning the restructuring plan the company has put forward. The plan would include an influx of a large number of casual workers at the cost of an estimated 400 full-time unionized jobs.

Workers are against the new changes in healthcare premiums that will give the company more control over future plans and might also force workers to pay a higher premium, as per the bargaining updates released by USW on March 20. Other demands include more transparency and consultation on shifts to avoid the very common 12-hour shifts for an extended period of time and for the disbursement of pension payments to employees who have lost their jobs due to layoffs and shutdowns in other plants.

The company spokesperson responding to the strike stated that it was not “rich enough” to pay for the workers’ demands and claims to have been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. But the union has pointed out large bonuses that company officials have recently given themselves.

Speaking to TribLive, Dave Brestensky, a worker and a union member responded that the company claims to have “lost money the last three months of 2020 (and then) turned around and gave themselves huge bonuses. If they are losing money, that’s wrong.”

The company plans to continue its operations with unrepresented and temporary workers, while the union has alleged that some of the workers were locked out by the company. The union also stated that it is prepared to strike for as long as it is required.