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Steel Industry Contract Standoff Could Lead To Largest Strike In Years

The standoff between American steelworkers and two of the country’s largest steel producers, U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal, could lead to one of the largest strikes in years. According to the Huffington Post, steelworkers haven’t been benefitting from the industry’s rising profits due in part to the 25% tariffs on steel imports. Recent contract negotiations with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal have led to steelworkers authorizing a strike against both companies.

U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal account for approximately 40% of flat-rolled steel production in the United States. The nation produced 82 million metric tons of steel in 2017 alone and the demand for steel from manufacturers has jumped in recent years. Just this year, the steel industry saw a 30% price hike.

These numbers have increased the profits of American steel companies significantly for the first time in years. Yet, leaders of the United Steelworkers union, which is made up of 300,000 steelworkers, say workers haven’t seen any of the benefits.

United Steelworkers is currently in a contract standoff with both companies since the previous contract expired on September 1, 2018.

Recently, up to 15,000 members voted unanimously to authorize a nationwide strike against ArcelorMittal if contract negotiations don’t go as planned. The vote follows the first unanimous strike authorization made by 16,000 U.S. Steel workers.

“[Whether we strike] depends on the progress or lack of progress we make at negotiations,” said Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers, in an interview with Jeremy Hobson of Here and Now.

“Our members are frustrated and angry at most of those two major companies at all facilities, and our union has played a very, very, very key role for the last 20 years of struggling every day to help the steel industry survive,” Gerard said. “We went through a period in 2003 roughly where there were 40 bankruptcies.”

Thomas Conway, the international vice president of United Steelworkers, says there’s a 90% chance of a strike he had to put a number on it. “Our people are [angry],” he said. “They understand the risk of this and what it means for their families.”

Union leaders say the U.S. steel industry has been experiencing strong growth even before the 25% tariffs. Up to 17% of steel imported into the U.S. is from Canada, but much of the steel from American companies like U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal is still in high demand.

Approximately 13% of the world’s steel is used in the automotive industry to create vehicles like trucks that carry the 5 million active shipping containers around the world or the 1.2 million registered snowmobiles in the United States.

It’s because of the need for steel that the industry has seen price increases and strong growth over the last few years. But workers haven’t benefited from these corporate gains.

In a statement made earlier this month, union leaders said that company officials at U.S. Steel have received over $50 million in pay and bonuses since 2015 while the hourly workforce hasn’t received a wage increase over the same period.

ArcelorMittal has also sought concessions from workers despite reporting the company’s highest quarterly profits in the last seven years. “[ArcelorMittal is] making huge profits and at the same time demands the lowering of our standards of living,” union leaders said in a memo to workers.

Concessions requested by ArcelorMittal such as the elimination of the bonus program and increased insurance costs would cause workers to make 72 cents less an hour.

“I don’t know what the company’s thinking,” said Pete Trinidad, a member of the United Steelworkers negotiating team, “but we’re fed up. We’re asking for a fair contract. The company can afford it.”