Steel Strike Enters Second Month
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. workers began drawing about $60 a week in strike pay Tuesday, as the walkout moved towards the start of its second month.
″Our positions have not changed one inch on either side,″ said Paul Rusen, chief negotiator for the United Steelworkers of America union. ″There’s not a thing going on.″
″This is the 31st day of the strike. That’s the only news of the day,″ said company spokesman Ken Maxcy.
The USW’s 8,200 members struck the company’s nine plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia at 12:01 a.m. July 21 in the first major walkout in the U.S. steel industry since a 119-day nationwide strike in 1959.
The Pittsburgh-based company, the nation’s seventh-largest steelmaker, filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of federal bankruptcy laws on April 16 after it claimed it was unable to pay debts that have since grown from about $514 million to about $530 million.
The union struck at the moment Wheeling-Pittsburgh unilaterally imposed an 18 percent cut on wages and benefits, which totaled $21.40 an hour. The company acted after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Warren Bentz of Erie, citing recent Reagan administration-sponsored revisions to the bankruptcy laws, ruled July 17 that the company could scrap its current labor contract.
Rusen said striking workers drew three weeks of regular wages, including wages for their last week of work and two weeks previously held by the company, until this week, when strike benefits began.
Benefits average $60 per week ″on the basis of need,″ Rusen said.
The USW has a strike fund of about $200 million and, with interest payments, there was no danger of the fund drying up to support Wheeling- Pittsbur gh strikers at current levels, Rusen said.
Rusen also said the union has considered an employee stock ownership plan as part of eventual reorganization of Wheeling-Pittsburgh, but that option is ″premature at this time.″
Rusen predicted the strike will last at least several weeks more as Wheeling-Pittsburgh continues to amass cash by selling inventory. He estimated the company has about $90 million in cash on hand.
″I think this company will run into a very dangerous cash situation around the first of October,″ Rusen said. ″I think they’re going to start to get nervous about the middle of September.″
Maxcy said the company had no comment about its financial situation.