Hamilton steelworkers to meet with U.S. Steel

Mediator says company to make its first offer in 10 months
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 09/08/2011

The union representing locked-out workers at Hamilton’s U.S. Steel plant is hoping a meeting called by a provincial mediator will lead to the resolution of the plant’s 10-month long labour dispute.

A meeting has been organized for Sept. 13, 2011 to present a comprehensive offer from the company to the United Steelworkers (USW), Local 1005.

“USW Local 1005 can only consider the fact that this meeting has been called by USS to be a positive development,” a release on the union’s website says. “We have of course accepted the invitation to attend the meeting.”

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.

While the union remains optimistic about next week’s meeting, it is also cautioning members to be somewhat apprehensive about the new offer. The union notes that U.S. Steel’s manager of government and public affairs, Trevor Harris, wrote an article in a Hamilton newspaper criticizing key union demands.

“[The union] has demanded that U.S. Steel Canada add to the pension underfunding by increasing pension payment beyond their current level in the future by adding unfunded cost-of-living adjustments to the mix,” Harris writes in the Hamilton Spectator. “Simply put, this is unreasonable.”

The union says that the concession they are being asked to accept on the cost-of-living clause is actually pre-existing pension indexing that has been part of the collective agreement for 20 years.

Harris also says that preventing the conversion of the pension plan from a DB plan to DC plan is not controversial because other North American U.S. Steel plants have done so.

“Like the rest of the unionized employees working in the North American steel industry, U.S. Steel Canada’s Steelworker-represented employees at Lake Erie Works in Nanticoke have agreed to this industry-wide norm, as have the Steelworker-represented employees working at our pickling operation in Nanticoke,” Harris writes. “This matter should not hold up a vote on the contract.”

The workers have been without a contract since June 2010. The 900 employees have yet to vote on an offer because the union says U.S. Steel hasn’t presented a fair offer since negotiations began.

The workers have been locked out of the plant since Nov. 7, 2010.

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