Steelworkers Reject Contract Proposal, Strike Looms
Steel execs are making record profits and the workers are tired of givebacks.
The steel industry has seen a revival over the last year, as profits in 2017 skyrocketed over the previous 2015 and 2016’s. Between the GOP’s corporate tax cuts and the Trump administration’s tariffs, companies like U.S. Steel and their executives are really raking it in.
The steelworkers, however, are not seeing their fair share of that windfall. This has become rather common in 2018, with inequality rising as corporate profits and executive compensation packages get bigger, yet wages stay the same.
United Steelworkers, North America’s largest industrial union, is leading the fight at two of the world’s largest steel manufacturers, U.S. Steel, and ArcelorMittal. After the labor contract expired on the 1st of the month and negotiations crumbled, every USW local at U.S. Steel from Pittsburgh to Gary, Indiana, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. That’s about 16,000 steelworkers willing to shut down the mills if their demands are not met.
Those same workers made sacrifices when the industry was at a low point in 2015, and they agreed to a 3-year wage freeze. Meanwhile, U.S. Steel executives took home over $50 million over that same 3-year period. Now, in return for their compromise, the company is strong-arming the union to accept cuts to family health care plans and retirement benefits that would completely eat away any pay increases in their proposal.
United Steelworkers says their members have no choice but to reject the current proposal, which would lock them into a bad deal for 6 years. If the union goes on strike, it would be the largest labor stoppage at U.S. Steel since a lockout in 1986.
Moving forward, the union and its members will have to play their cards right. If the past few years are any indication, this industry can see upswings and downswings based on a whole set of factors, both economic and political. Who knows what will happen under the Trump administration any day of the week. Plus, advancements in technology and productivity have already dramatically decreased employment in this sector (from a high of 650,000 employed in 1953 down to 143,000 by 2017) and may give further justification for cutting hours and slowing hiring.
Whatever happens to the industry down the line, the steelworkers have seized on this moment. They have done this before, going back to the birth of the modern labor movement in the 1930’s. The overwhelming votes in favor of a strike are good signs that worker militancy and solidarity are reaching all-time highs.
Keep your eyes on this one. It could become a battle.