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Wheeling-Pitt Steel Workers On Strike In Three States

October 1, 1996

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) _ About 4,500 union workers at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. went on strike in three states today after bargainers failed to resolve differences between competing pension proposals.

The company and the United Steelworkers union met through Monday night at a Pittsburgh hotel.

``We’re sorry to say, but we were unable to reach an agreement with the company. So we’ll be on strike,″ Jim Bowen, chief negotiator for the eight local unions, said after talks broke down.

The union set up pickets today at all eight company facilities in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Union workers huddled around fires set in barrels, trying to keep warm and talking about hopes for a short walkout.

``If someone tells you they want this strike, then they are goofy,″ said John Fillinger, a worker at the Mingo Junction, Ohio, plant.

Wheeling-Pitt spokesman Gregg Warren today said the company was disappointed that the differences were not resolved.

``The company has made several proposals which it considers fair and addresses employees’ concerns. And the company remains willing and available to resume talks,″ Warren said.

Bowen said workers only want the type of pension plan enjoyed by workers at other major steel companies.

``We’re disappointed that the company continued to insist on its second-class proposal for first-class steel workers,″ said Bowen. He said workers would strike ``as long as it takes.″

It was the first major strike at Wheeling-Pitt since a 98-day strike in 1985. Workers also staged a two-day strike in March 1994.

In its final offer, the company doubled the signing bonus for approving the contract to $1,000. It also doubled the pay increase in the second year of the contract to 50 cents an hour starting Oct. 1, 1998.

Union workers at Wheeling-Pitt earned an average wage, overtime and profit-sharing of nearly $44,000 per year in 1995, the company said.

But the sticking point in the negotiations continued to be pensions.

The union wanted a ``defined benefits″ pension package in which workers know exactly how much they will receive when they retire. The company wanted to keep a ``defined contributions″ plan in which the payoff depends on investments and other factors.

Anticipating a strike, Wheeling-Pitt shut down its furnaces at Mingo Junction and Steubenville, Ohio, but the furnaces could be returned to service in days should an agreement be reached, Warren said.

Some of the 700 nonunion administrators remained locked in the buildings at all eight sites to maintain facilities, he said.

A prolonged strike would continue to hurt the ability of U.S. steel producers to meet demand following a series of unplanned outages caused by flooding and blast furnace malfunctions, analysts said.

Because of those factors, steel prices stopped their decline, and major steel producers increased prices in August.

The threat of a strike on Monday did not affect the stock value of WHX Corp. of New York, Wheeling-Pitt’s parent corporation. It finished Monday at $10 a share, up 12 1/2 cents.

WHX Corp. is the ninth largest steel maker in the United States in terms of production. Wheeling-Pitt produced 2.2 million tons of steel in 1995.

Besides Steubenville and Mingo Junction, Wheeling-Pitt also operates facilities Yorkville and Martins Ferry, Ohio; Follansbee, Beech Bottom and Wheeling, W.Va.; and Allenport, Pa.

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