Hamilton steelworkers still confident with union

Small group of union members questioning leadership outnumbered by majority
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 08/04/2011

Locked-out Hamilton steelworkers have voted to support their union’s negotiating committee and to continue with their confrontation with U.S. Steel, now in its ninth month.

In a special union meeting held on Wednesday, 510 members of Steelworkers Union, Local 1005 said they have confidence in the strategy their negotiating committee has been pursuing. Fewer than 30 members said they did not support the committee.

The meeting was called after 13 members of the union signed a letter asking for the vote. Since contract talks with the company broke down last year, a group of union members has been asking for union leaders to let members vote on the company's final offer. Two efforts prior to this vote were ruled out of order because the motions weren't presented in advance of the meetings.

The bargaining committee for Local 1005 did not want its members to vote on the company’s final offer because it would mean that negotiations would resume. The committee says the last offer wasn’t fair enough to even present to their members. Union leaders also say that if the U.S. Steel was eager to have its employees back on the job, it could exercise its right under provincial law to ask for a government-supervised vote.

The employee pension plan is the central issue of the labour dispute. U.S. Steel is demanding the current defined benefit (DB) pension plan be converted to a defined contribution (DC) plan for new employees. The company would also like to see the termination of pension indexing for current retirees. In return, U.S. Steel has offered to drop earlier demands for vacation time cuts and decreases in the cost of living allowances

Union leaders have rejected the pension demands, saying it is unfair to deny future employees retirement security of a DB plan and to revoke minor annual increases from current retirees.

In June, a court-issued injunction stopped the union from blockading ships wanting to leave Hamilton harbor by occupying a lift bridge that needs to be raised while large ships navigate the area. The union was attempting to stop ships from moving a material used to manufacture steel the Hamilton plant to another U.S. Steel facility. The union claims that by allowing the coke to be relocated, the government is stripping its members of the right to protest.

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