Weirton Workers Rally With USW Contract With ArcelorMittal Up Saturday

Members of United Steelworkers Local 2911 at ArcelorMittal Weirton rally Thursday on the steps of the union hall on West Street. Photo by Paul Giannamore

WEIRTON — More than 100 members of United Steelworkers Local 2911 gathered Thursday afternoon in front of the union hall in the shadow of the No. 13 gate to ArcelorMittal Weirton to receive an update and rally for what they say is a fair contract.

Local 2911 President Mark Glyptis remained in Pittsburgh for ongoing negotiations expected to continue through the weekend. Although the current three-year contract expires Saturday, union officials said steps have not been taken to start a strike.

The company and union worked months beyond the expiration of a contract in 2015 and eventually came to terms about six months later.

The rally Thursday lasted about 15 minutes and was termed a “solidarity rally.” Similar rallies were planned across 13 USW locals with about 15,000 members at ArcelorMittal U.S. operations.

Local 2911 has about 800 members. Veteran union officials said the rally also was a chance for leadership to explain the negotiations process to new workers who may not have gone through the process before. There hasn’t been a major steel strike in the area since the 1990s, and never at Weirton, which was covered by an independent union for most of its history.

Mike Vitello, Local 2911 training coordinator and financial secretary, said the presidents and vice presidents of the USW locals and USW District 1 Director David McCall were continuing negotiations in Pittsburgh and plan to negotiate through the weekend.

He cautioned members not to respond to rumors or anything they hear about talks with U.S. Steel, which also has a contract with the USW expiring Saturday.

“We are only here today to show our solidarity for our contract,” said Vitello. “We’re here because we want a fair and equitable contract. We’re not here to say that we’re going to panic on anything. If we don’t have a contract by midnight Saturday night, it’s not to panic. There are things they’re going to be talking about today to control that.”

John Balzano, Local 2911 benefits coordinator, offered reassurances that if a strike would occur that coverage would continue for 150 days.

John Saunders, USW staff representative, said when the previous contract was negotiated in 2015, the union took unusual steps, tying raises to profits and pricing because the industry had been struggling at the time. He said hot band steel pricing is at $934 a ton and not likely to rise more, so a contract doesn’t need to be tied to steel pricing this time.

He said talks have gone slowly (the talks started in early July), and they’ve been disappointing.

“This company has benefited from the tariffs,” said Saunders. “Prices are up. Demand is up. What’s on the table today is a concessionary contract. That is unacceptable to Mark and the other local presidents.

“This time, we believe our members across the country are entitled to a wage increase that’s guaranteed,” he said. “We believe the country wants to reduce health care benefits and co-pays and the presidents have said they will not bring back a contract that is concessionary.”

Saunders said the union is not close to a strike and has not started the process to head toward a strike, including a strike vote. He said the union wants ArcelorMittal to come to the table with a contract that is fair and equitable and reflects the conditions that American steel is in today.

“There is no way that you don’t deserve and have earned a real pay increase,” he said, drawing applause. “They can afford a reasonable, fair guaranteed amount.”

He said the company also is trying to shed health care for retirees and said it doesn’t pay such benefits anywhere else in the world.

“That’s unacceptable,” Saunders said.

He said the company needs to remember that the USW stood with the industry when it was struggling three years ago, and it should come up with a fair contract with guaranteed raises now.

“We want the ability to go through that mill with our heads up and do what we do every time,” he said.

Further, Saunders said the union wants a capital expenditure plan to keep the mills up to date and competitive, not to send profits overseas to ArcelorMittal elsewhere.

“We’re not going to panic,” he said. “We’re not in a crisis mode. Hopefully this company will do the right thing. We’re not going to walk away, but we’re not going to take a (bad contract) like we did the last time.”

Members were reminded that if they text AM to 47486, they can receive contract text updates from the USW.

Saunders said the union would provide plenty of notice of any work actions unless the company would lock out employees, but said nothing will happen Saturday from the union’s standpoint. He told workers not to listen to rumors and to show up for work.

An ArcelorMittal communications spokesperson did not return a call or email seeking comment.