United Steelworkers Local 1938 are the first union to authorize a nationwide strike of U.S. Steel facilities after two votes Tuesday.
More than 600 Steelworkers at the Minntac plant in Mountain Iron unanimously supported a work stoppage, a result that will be sent to USW President Leo Gerard. A third vote was held Tuesday night, but Local 1938 President John Arbogast said the morning and afternoon tallies were the majority of union members, thus authorizing the strike.
Workers at Keewatin Taconite will vote today as similar strike authorizations take place across the nation at U.S. Steel plants and mills. The last strike was authorized in 1991.
The afternoon vote by Local 1938 came hours after U.S. Steel made public a new six-year contract proposal that, among other items, featured front-loaded bonuses and pay increases throughout the length of the contract.
Bonuses include a $4,000 signing bonus within 30 days of ratification, a $5,000 healthcare transition bonus paid within 30 days and $6,000 in guaranteed minimum profit sharing paid in 2018-19. Wage increases start at 4 percent for the first year, 3 percent in years two and three and 1 percent for the final three years.
A public copy of the latest U.S. Steel proposal is available at negotiations.uss.com.
“It didn’t work here and I don’t believe it will work in the steel mills either,” Arbogast said of the proposal.
USW is balking at the contract length — twice as long as the three-year deal ratified in 2015 — and rising health care costs. The union is also seeking at least a 3 percent wage bump across the board after agreeing to forgo an increase for the last seven years.
During the last round of negotiations in 2015, the steel industry was mired in a slump that idled several Iron Range plants and complicated talks. That’s a different story today as steel tariffs enacted by the Obama and Trump administrations have the industry in full swing and projected to make large profits.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration moved forward on Section 232 tariffs of 25 percent on foreign shipments into the country, providing the most recent boon for steelmakers. Citing the tariffs, U.S. Steel restarted a blast furnace at Granite City Works in Illinois and reopened Keetac in 2017 as the overall industry showed signs of improvement.
U.S. Steel said Tuesday it is optimistic the sides will agree on a new contract.
“We do not anticipate a strike,” the company said through spokeswoman Meghan Cox. “Our plants continue to operate in a safe and orderly fashion. Talks are ongoing, and we continue to work diligently to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion.”
USW and the company agreed Saturday to extend the current contract that expired on Sept. 1, but Arbogast said the union doesn’t want to continue extensions like it did in 2015, when final agreements were not ratified until February 2016.
After all local unions send their votes to Gerard and USW, Arbogast expects the local presidents will fly to Pittsburgh at the end of the week for another attempt at negotiations. If a suitable proposal isn’t offered, he said, USW will provide a 48-hour strike notice.
“This is not going to last like 2015,” he added. “We should know by the end of next week.”
It doesn’t appear the Section 232 tariffs, enacted under national security concerns, will impact a potential work stoppage. Under national security claims, the president can order unions back to work, but Arbogast said the Steelworkers appear to be exempt in this case.
A spokesperson for Congressman Rick Nolan’s office said their review of labor law also points to President Trump being unable to force USW back on the job.
“There is some concern about the possibility of the president invoking [1947 Taft-Hartley Substantive Provisions],” the spokesperson said Tuesday, “but as of right now that does not seem like a legitimate threat.”