More than 150 steelworkers march in Clairton as contract deadline approaches
More than 150 steelworkers wearing blue T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Steel Strong” rallied Thursday outside the gates of Clairton Coke Works as their contract deadline with U.S. Steel approaches.
Some are ready to strike for the first time in more than 30 years.
The crowd chanted “shut it down” and a handful of members chanted “1986,” citing the last year the United Steelworkers union last struck.
“This is a steelworking town and we deserve fair wages and benefits,” said Nate Crosby of Belle Vernon, who works in maintenance at the plant.
The contract between the company and more than 16,000 members of United Steelworkers expires midnight Saturday, according to a union news release. About 2,500 union members work at the three U.S. Steel mills in Western Pennsylvania -- Clairton Coke Works, Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock and Irvin Works in West Mifflin, a union spokesman said.
Talks between union and company officials are scheduled to continue through Saturday.
Last week, the company presented a proposal the union called “insulting.” It included benefit cuts and “crippling cost shifting” to its employees and retirees, according to the union’s website.
The last contract, signed in 2015, froze wages for workers, the union web post said. During the three years since then, natural gas drilling activity fell to a 10-year low, and the company shuttered several plants, none in Western Pennsylvania. U.S. Steel reported net losses of $1.7 billion from 2015 through 2017, the web post said.
Over the last year, finances have improved and drilling activity has rebounded, partly due to new tariffs on imported steel, the web post said.
Earlier this month, U.S. Steel reported second quarter net earnings of $214 million, down from the $261 million in net earnings in the second quarter of 2017, according to a company news release. The company’s CEO David Burritt stated in the second quarter earnings report that he was “increasingly optimistic” about the company’s long-term profitable growth.
“We gave them what they needed and now it’s time for them to give it back,” said Lance Biddle of West Elizabeth who has worked in maintenance at the plant for 15 years.
Brittany Lloyd of Port Vue said she worries every day about her husband, James, who works with chemicals at the plant.
“They risk their lives every day for this company and the company wants to not give them anything back,” Lloyd said.
“They take all his money,” Lloyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna, wearing a “Steel Strong” T-shirt down to her knees, added.
Sharryl Christian, who works in accounting at Irvin Works, said the small raises offered in the company’s proposal for a new 7-year contract are unacceptable after going four years without one.
“This is my union, my life, my livelihood,” said Christian, of Clairton, while sitting on the outskirts of the rally in a lawn chair with an iced tea. “We’re the ones making the steel mill run and they’re reaping the benefits.”
The company’s proposal for a new 7-year contract, released last week, included 3.5 percent raises this year, 2 percent raises next year and 1 percent raises in 2020, according to a summary posted to a union web page. After that, raises would be possible but not guaranteed.
Braddock Mayor John Fetterman attended the rally to support the steelworkers.
“Don’t let the company gaslight you and say you don’t deserve it,” Fetterman, who is running for lieutenant governor, told the crowd. “They’re making more money, you need to make more money.”
The march is part of a “national day of action” at U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal facilities across the country, with similar demonstrations planned in Cleveland, Columbus, Chicago and elsewhere. Workers participating are not walking off the job to do so, the union spokesman said.
A U.S. Steel spokeswoman said in a statement: “Talks have been ongoing and we will work diligently to keep bargaining in good faith to reach an agreement. As with previous contract negotiations, our facilities will continue to operate in a safe and orderly manner. We hope to come to a mutually agreeable conclusion.”