Steelworkers Claim Lockout, Seek Unemployment Compensation
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ United Steelworkers attorneys hope to win unemployment compensation for union members by convincing officials in three states that the work stoppage at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. is a lockout, not a strike.
″The Steelworkers have remained willing to continue negotiating and working under the conditions of the labor contract that was not to expire until July 1986,″ said Frank Lucchino, a Pittsburgh attorney retained by the USW.
Union attorneys in Columbus, Ohio, and Wheeling, W.Va., said they would make the same arguments in their states.
Wheeling-Pittsburgh officials say the plants in the Ohio and Monongahela river valleys are open to any employees who want to work.
A lockout is a refusal by a company to allow employees to come in to work until they agree to the company’s terms.
The work stoppage by 8,200 USW members entered its sixth day today with no meetings scheduled. Talks broke down Saturday over wage and benefit concessions sought by Wheeling-Pittsburgh while it goes through Chapter 11 reorganization.
Wheeling-Pittsburgh, the nation’s seventh-largest steelmaker, is the target of the industry’s first major walkout since 1959. Company officials say a prolonged hiatus will force Wheeling-Pittsburgh into liquidation.
The shutdown began Sunday morning after the company, exercising power won in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to cut the remaining one year from its union contract, lowered wages and benefits and changed work rules.
″As a result of what’s happened in this case, these people are very likely entitled to unemployment compensation,″ said USW attorney Stewart R. Jaffy in Columbus, Ohio.
A test of the employees’ argument is not likely to come until after the one-week waiting period required by all three states, the attorneys said.
The maximum weekly cash payment is $224 in Pennsylvania and $225 per week in West Virginia. Ohio pays between $147 and $465 depending on how many dependents the worker has.
Wheeling-Pittsburgh, strapped with nearly $530 million in loans it says it can’t repay, filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of federal bankruptcy law earlier this year.
The company on Sunday rolled back total labor costs from an average of $21.40 per hour by what it said was 18 percent. The wage portion of labor costs dropped from $11.12 per hour to $9.10 per hour, Wheeling-Pittsbur gh said.
Union officials say the changes actually translate to a 27 percent cut that drops labor costs to $15.60 per hour and average wages to less than $8 per hour.
Labor costs are the total of wages, incentives, insurance, pensions, vacations and all other benefits.
USW members walked out to protest the company’s decision to impose the changes unilaterally.