U.S. Steel presents locked out Steelworkers with ‘final offer’

Union says company is trying to force vote on its 750 members
|labour-reporter.com|Last Updated: 09/30/2011

U.S. Steel is warning its locked-out workers that the future of the Hamilton plant is at stake due to financial losses and that it will not be using subsidies from profitable mills to keep the facility open.

“The Hamilton Works is a severely challenged facility in a very tough business. In fact, Hamilton Works has lost money at times even when other steel plants in North America have made money,” U.S. Steel Canada president Anton Jura and general counsel James Garraux wrote to their employees earlier this week. “Hamilton Works will survive on its own merits. It won’t be protected or subsidized.”

The two parties met on Sept. 23 to discuss a recent offer tabled by the company, but union leaders left the meeting.

“Your union leadership rejected the Company’s proposal and left the negotiations without advising the company as to whether they would submit our proposal to you for a vote,” U.S. Steel’s letter to its employees read.

The 750 United Steelworkers (USW) union Local 1005 members have been locked out of the facility since November 2010. 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 its latest offer, U.S. Steel remains firm about its pension demands, but is offering a $3,000 signing bonus, a profit-sharing plan with the potential to pay up to $3,500 per employee every quarter, and a guarantee of a minimum 26 weeks’ work at 32 hours a week. The company has also offered a credit for the time spent on lockout for workers who would have gained the 30 years’ service needed to retire.

U.S. Steel says that this deal is “more than fair” and that the deal has a limited shelf life.

“This is the company’s final offer for a new collective bargaining agreement. You deserve an opportunity to vote in favour of the company’s offer, end the lockout and return to work.”

Employment insurance for many of the workers is nearing expiration, which could mean that some will be living on only $200 a week in strike pay. Union leaders told members at a Sept. 29 meeting that they believed the company saw that as an opportunity to force a vote.

Neither the union nor the company has officially commented on negotiations as a media blackout is currently in place.

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