United Steelworkers leaders balked Wednesday at the latest contract proposal by U.S. Steel, dismissing the Pittsburgh-headquartered company’s revised offer as a “clumsy and bad-faith attempt” to appease a union on the verge of its first strike in three decades.
U.S. Steel emphasized that all its plants continue to operate in “a safe and orderly fashion” and that it expects to reach a resolution soon.
Its revised contract includes a 1 percentage point bump in pay from the terms proposed last week and increased employer share of health care benefits.
“Talks continue this week, and we continue to work diligently to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion,” U.S. Steel spokeswoman Meghan Cox said.
But the more than 16,000 United Steelworkers members who work for the company — including more than 2,500 steelworkers in Western Pennsylvania — continue to make preparations for what could be U.S. Steel’s first work stoppage since 1986. All union locals voted unanimously last week to give union leaders the power to strike if contract talks continue to falter. Their contracts expired Sept. 1.
On Monday and Tuesday, local steelworkers began signing up for potential picketing shifts, said Don Furko, president of USW Local 1557, which represents about 1,150 workers of Clairton Coke Works.
Members also stopped by union offices and dropped off at least eight “burn barrels,” the 55-gallon drums used to keep protesters warm overnight.
“They’re ready to roll,” Furko said. “We’re ready to go on strike.”
U.S. Steel said in a statement that the company’s updated contract proposal “reflects the ongoing dialogue during our most recent round of negotiations.”
“The revised six-year proposal, which we strongly believe is in the best long-term interest of all U.S. Steel stakeholders, includes a 14 percent base wage increase over the term of the agreement, guaranteed profit-sharing and health care premiums offset with transition payments,” Cox said.
The union — which prefers a three- or four-year contract extension — accused U.S. Steel of trying to entice members with misleading information and up-front payouts that it claims won’t make up for additional long-term costs.
After three years without pay raises, the union told members it plans to make a counter-proposal that will include “real wage increases, a reasonable term of the contract, leave our benefits alone, fix our pension issues and solve some of the problems caused by this blatant and bad-faith attempt to try to break this union.”
Last week, U.S. Steel offered a six-year extension with a 4 percent raise in the first year; a 3 percent raise in the second; and a 1 percent raise in years four through six, with the option to earn an additional 5 percent bonus.
Now, U.S. Steel is offering wage increases of 4 percent in the first year and 2 percent in years two through six of the proposed contract.
“It just feels like a shell game, like they’re just shuffling money around,” Furko said.
The proposed contract , which would expire on Sept. 1, 2024, also maintains a $4,000 signing bonus and adds $6,000 in guaranteed profit-sharing in the third and fourth quarter of this year, including for probationary employees.
U.S. Steel also agreed to pick up a larger tab of health care insurance premium costs, and offered up to $2,000 per year of company contributions, plus a $1,500 lump-sum “transition” payment for those who choose high-deductible coverage plans.
The union — which dismissed the transition payment as a “$1,500 bribe” — estimates that members with families still could pay as much as $2,000 per year more in out-of-pocket health care expenses.
“Stay strong and united,” the union told members in the message about the revised pay and benefits proposal, titled “New USS Proposal Still Falls Short.”
The union told members not to let U.S. Steel “intimidate and stampede you to accept their deal” by making their proposal contingent on the “unrealistic, self-imposed deadline of ratification by Sept. 22.”
Negotiations are scheduled to resume Thursday, when United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard is scheduled to meet with local union presidents in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.