US Workers Locked Out At Twelve Plants

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Locked-out USW members at the ATI facility in Midland, Pennsylvania
Locked-out USW members at the ATI facility in Midland, Pennsylvania

THE United Steelworkers (USW) union and Pennsylvania AFL-CIO have condemned the decision by specialty metals company Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) to lock out 2,200 workers at 12 plants in six states last Friday, 14 August.

‘It’s outrageous that the company has chosen this destructive path, but it is clear that ATI intended to lock these workers out since day one,’ said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. From the beginning, the company has bargained in bad faith to dictate the terms of an agreement.’

The lockout is the culmination of a months-long campaign by ATI management to force workers to accept draconian and unnecessary concessions. It is spending millions of dollars on bringing outsiders to replace skilled and experienced union members even though the union has never threatened to strike or even conducted a strike authorisation vote.

The USW said on Tuesday: ‘Last week, ATI locked out the experienced and dedicated workforce that has served them faithfully over many years and brought this company to the position that they were able to build and finance their new hot strip mill. ATI management likes to say they financed this project on their own without going into debt, but they fail to mention the unionised workforce’s role in the restructuring of their workplaces in order to bring the mill to fruition.

‘They also fail to mention the reduction of the workforce affected by this project and the fact that when the project was announced, there were approximately 950 employees at their Brackenridge operation while today it stands at about 575. The company further fails to mention the help, inducements, incentives, relief and grants they received from many levels of government to accomplish the project.

‘In the course of trying to explain the foolishness of this lock out action, ATI through its mouth piece Bob Wetherbee and PR consultants continue to resort to “spinning” and intentionally misleading statements regarding the pay levels of the workforce and other issues involved in this bargaining. ATI management has wasted millions on a public relations campaign they have waged both inside the plants with our members and outside the plants within our communities over the past months. The biggest twist of the truth they publish is an “annual average earnings” of ATI employees of $94,000 per year.

‘This is a slight-of-hand characterisation, and ATI knows it. What they fail to mention is that they have so dramatically understaffed the operations that workers are forced to work 350-400 hours of overtime per year. They fail to mention that employees often work 12 and 16 hour days for days on end without time off, breaks to spend time with their families or deal with the everyday issues that every person faces.

‘ATI would have the public believe that this level of earnings comes through its graciousness. Nothing is further from the truth. It’s earned through the exhausting hours, days and nights spent around the clock in those plants, running and maintaining the mills and missing out on time spent away from families and important engagements.

‘They also fail to mention that a significant portion of that “average earnings level” is derived through a variable incentive bonus system that only pays when quality steels are made and shipped on time. When shipments are down and the mills aren’t scheduled and at periods when the market is soft and schedules are reduced, incentive payments are also down and those employment costs, including both overtime and variable incentive pays, are reduced or nonexistent.

‘If the required overtime worked and related incentive payments aren’t added to these figures, the annual earnings is cut to about $60,000. That’s a far cry from the company’s claim of $94,000. The difference comes from the overtime and endless hours spent running the factories and mills. There is something to the old adage that “liars figure and figures lie”.’

On Monday, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale and Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder, on behalf of over 800,000 union workers in Pennsylvania, joined the United Steelworkers in condemning Allegheny Technologies Inc., (ATI) for locking out over 2,200 Steelworkers at 12 sites across the country and at five facilities in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

President Bloomingdale and Secretary-Treasurer Snyder participated in a rally Monday morning at the Midland facility where hundreds of members of USW Local 1212 and members of the Beaver-Lawrence Central Labour Council demonstrated their unity in condemning the lockout and resolving to continue fighting until the workers are back on the job with a fair contract.

Bloomingdale said: ‘Allegheny Technologies received over $8 million in tax breaks, grants, and low interest loans from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and now they are breaking their promise to their workers and to the taxpayers. This lockout is not only an attack on good middle class jobs, it betrays the promises made by this corporation to our communities. The entire labour movement, along with our friends and supporters, will continue standing side by side with these workers and their families.

‘We will stand and give them our full support until they are back at work with a fair contract. We will do whatever it takes in putting pressure on ATI to convince them that union busting and greed is bad for business.’

Snyder said: ‘Lockouts, by definition, are planned and intentional attacks on workers who truly want to work. And, the fact that ATI would threaten to bring cowardly scabs to steal their jobs, speaks to this company””s unwillingness to bargain in good faith. Make no mistake that workers in every employment sector are facing the same kinds of outrageous attacks.

‘Pensions, healthcare, working conditions are being eradicated by corporate greed all across the land, and it must stop. It will stop, by union members, progressive lawmakers, and community activists standing shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity, last one day longer than the twisted robber barons of this generation.’

The USW noted: ‘Starting in January, months before contract negotiations between the USW and ATI began, ATI management hired outside consultants to recruit replacement workers and forced union members to sit through captive-audience meetings aimed at intimidating them into accepting concessions.

‘For a company so fixated on cost-savings, ATI’s plan to toss more money down the drain paying replacement workers and security personnel, in addition to creating ill-will with their employees and in the community, is foolish.’

USW International Vice President Tom Conway, who chairs the ATI bargaining committee, said: ‘We recognise that we are facing a difficult environment, but the way to address these problems is by working together, not by creating arbitrary deadlines and issuing threats.’

Rather than accepting the union’s offer to continue working under the terms of the old contract while negotiations continue, ATI moved to lock their employees out of their jobs. We have taken this process seriously, and the company has instead chosen to engage in bad-faith bargaining and to derail our union’s democratic process through this announcement,’ Conway said.

‘We remain ready and willing to bargain toward an agreement that is fair to both sides, and today we informed the company that our June 30 offer to remain at work while negotiations continue still stands,’ Conway stressed.

• The Ohio AFL-CIO is organising a protest on Friday morning outside a conference supporting right-to-work laws, at which several Republican presidential candidates are scheduled to speak. The Defending the American Dream Summit is being sponsored by the conservative Americans for Prosperity, which is based in the Washington, D.C. area. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida are among the candidates scheduled to address the conference being held at the Columbus Convention Centre.

AFL-CIO has put out the call for union members and supporters from throughout the state to attend the demostration outside the centre. Union workers often make more than their non-union counterparts. Right-to-work laws centre on making union membership optional in workplaces where rank and file workers are represented by unions. When the strength of unions is undermined, then the stability of the middle class is compromised,’ said Timothy Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO.

‘We want to bring workers,- union and non-union, together and other folks, who are interested, to say that Americans for Prosperity’s vision of the American Dream is extreme,’ he said. They are coming into Columbus to hold a national summit and talk about a lot of issues, which we feel frankly take the American worker away from achieving the American Dream.’

Demonstrators will gather at McFerson Commons at John McConnell Boulevard and Nationwide Boulevard at 9am before marching to the convention centre for a rally from 10am to noon.