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Union Won’t Be First To Seek Talks

August 26, 1986

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The chief negotiator for 22,000 idled USX Corp. steelworkers said Tuesday he won’t be first to propose resuming talks to resolve a nearly month-old work stoppage.

Asked if he would consider asking company negotiators to reopen bargaining, United Steelworkers union Treasurer James McGeehan said, ″No, I have no intention.″

He spoke after telling the 56 USW locals involved in the USX dispute that there has been ″absolutely no contact″ between tho two sides since talks ended July 31 in Pittsburgh.

″We are not seeking a prolonged shutdown, but, if necessary, we are prepared for it,″ McGeehan later told 2,800 delegates at the union’s biennial constitutional convention.

The two sides left the table deadlocked over the company’s demand for stiff wage cuts and broad new freedom to use non-union contractors in its plants.

Meanwhile, the district director for the United Steelworkers’ largest group of USX employees said he would not be surprised if the company tried to close certain plants during the dispute and avoid paying employee shutdown benefits.

″Yes, I’d look for that,″ said Jack Parton, whose East Chicago-based District 31 contains the union’s largest concentration of steelworkers and the union’s biggest USX contingent, about 7,500 active workers.

USX Chairman David M. Roderick has said the work stoppage could force the company not to reopen some facilities.

Portions of the Fairless Works near Philadelphia, the Mon Valley Works at Pittsburgh and the Gary Works in Indiana are considered vulnerable.

″With him saying that, I believe something’s going to go down,″ Parton said. ″But ... I think we’d be compelled to negotiate with them about that. While they (may) say ‘We’ll shut down and we don’t owe you anything,’ well, that’s on the table, and I think we can still negotiate that.″

USX spokesman Thomas Farrell in Pittsburgh had no immediate comment.

The union’s labor contract with USX expired July 31, when work stopped. But other agreements run through Dec. 31 obliging the company to pay what are known as shutdown benefits to workers displaced by plant closings.

Such cash benefits can run into the tens of thousands of dollars per employee depending on length of service and other factors. Those benefits and shutdown-related asset write-offs can generate huge losses.

In 1983 when the company, then U.S. Steel Corp., eliminated 15,400 jobs, 10,800 of them belonging to laid-off employees, it took a charge against income of $1.1 billion, about $636 million of that for pensions, insurance and other shutdown benefits.

Analysts on Wall Street and elsewhere have said that despite massive cutbacks in steelmaking, the nation still has plants capable of pouring as much as 30 million tons of steel that is not needed. USX’s share of that might be 10 million tons, or 40 percent of its total capacity, they say.

Parton said that often giving contract concessions ″doesn’t make any difference″ in preserving jobs.

″In 1983 we gave them concessions that were going to save plants and jobs. Hell, (Roderick) went wholesale and cut,″ he said.

USX is the last of the top six U.S. steel producers to settle a new contract or agree to a contract extension.

With production halted, its major customers in automaking have canceled their fall steel orders, giving USX’s competitors the extra business.

″How the company could ever get themselves in this situation is unbelievable,″ McGeehan said. ″Who knows what they want to do?″

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