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With Soaring Profits Going Straight to the Top, Disregarded Steel Workers Unanimously Approve Strike

"We're asking for a fair contract. The company can afford it."

Leaders of the United Steelworkers union said this week that there is a 90 percent chance of workers going on strike. (Photo: United Steelworkers/Flickr/cc)

Union leaders said this week that tens of thousands of steelworkers are increasingly likely to go on strike as their companies rake in profits—refusing to allow recent windfalls to benefit their employees while handing out bonuses to executives.

If the demands of workers now attempting to renegotiate contracts are not met, thirteen local United Steelworkers (USW) unions representing about 15,000 members unanimously voted on Tuesday to strike against ArcelorMittal, a Luxembourg-based company with plants in several states.

"We are organized and mobilized and will not allow ArcelorMittal to bully us into accepting anything less than the fair contracts we have earned and deserve," USW District 1 Director David McCall, who is leading contract talks, said in a statement. "These are jobs worth fighting for, and we intend to keep it that way."

The vote followed a similar call earlier this month by 16,000 workers at Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel, who also authorized a strike if their new contract deal doesn't include a wage increase.

Thomas Conway, international vice president of USW, told the Washington Post that he sees a "90 percent chance" of a strike in the coming days.

"Our people are [angry]. They understand the risk of this and what it means for their families," Conway said.

Both companies, which account for 25 percent for American steel production, have reported soaring profits in recent years, with President Donald Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports providing an added boost.

According to the Financial Times, ArcelorMittal's earnings in the first six months of 2018 were more than 28 percent higher than they were in the same period in the previous year. U.S. Steel's operating profit rose 38 percent in its second quarter, CNN reported last month, and prices of all U.S.-made steel went up five to 10 percent after the tariffs were imposed. 

But like Trump's tax law, the industry's benefits from the president's policies have gone straight to the top.

As USW said after the U.S. Steel vote, "Top company officials have given themselves more than $50 million in pay and bonuses since 2015 have faced stagnant wages in recent years while the hourly work force has not received a wage increase over the same period."

ArcelorMittal employees have been especially angered by contract talks in which the company has asked for concessions from workers—including increased insurance costs and the end of employee bonuses.

"I don't know what the company's thinking, but we're fed up," Pete Trinidad, a worker involved in contract talks, told the Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune. "We're asking for a fair contract. The company can afford it."

"ArcelorMittal can easily afford to negotiate fair labor agreements with us, but the company has instead insisted on concessions that would more than wipe out any pay increases in its proposal," McCall said. "Management has even failed to address some of our non-economic proposals and ignored most of the local issues we have brought to the table, demonstrating a fundamental lack of respect for the men and women upon whose shoulders rests the company’s past, present and future success."

As The Week's Jeff Spross observed last week, a strike among workers in an industry that Trump has aggressively courted and whose gains he has held up as evidence of his successful presidency, would offer a clear picture of how firmly Trump stands on the side of corporations over workers.

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