Former LTV workers are growing frustrated at the pace of contract talks with new owners.
PITTSBURGH -- With the entire integrated steel industry watching, steelworkers and the International Steel Group Inc. struggle to negotiate a labor contract that meets both their needs.
"It will happen," said Jim Robinson, director of United Steelworkers of America District 7, which covers Illinois and Indiana.
Labor and management have been holding informal negotiating sessions since ISG bought LTV's assets out of bankruptcy in February. Formal, sit-and-glare-across-the-table sessions haven't yet begun.
Local officials have been in Pittsburgh to discuss the contract, and the union's international and district representatives have had a series of informal talks with company officials.
"We're working through the problems at a variety of levels," Robinson said. "At some point, we'll pull everyone together for formal talks."
The challenge for the Steelworkers is negotiating a contract that meets the demands of the company and the workers while not deviating from the pattern bargaining agreement used in all Steelworkers contracts. The company expects to have a contract that allows it to operate more like a minimill than an integrated steelmaker with more flexible work rules, expanded responsibilities and payroll incentives and bonuses.
The company began the recall of workers in April. Because it didn't have the necessary administrative staff, ISG used a contractor to administer its payroll.The hourly labor force has been working under an interim contract since then.
The lack of a labor contract is beneficial to the company because its labor costs are less, said Loren Hanson, vice president of Steelworkers Local 1011.
"Wages are cheaper now than with a contract because they're paying straight hourly, not incentives or profit sharing," he said.
The natives, long-term former LTV Steelworkers, are getting restless, Hanson said.
"It's going very slow," he said. "With a new contract, it's a huge undertaking. We're not going to keep working without it forever."
Mike Rubicz, president of Local 1375 in Warren, said he understands why workers are frustrated, but there has been some limited progress in the informal talks.
"There's a lot of frustrated people by it, but the whole steel industry is watching that contract, so they're taking their time," he said.
ISG has brought back about 100 workers at the former LTV Coke Plant in Warren, which used to employ 170 hourly workers.
Possibility of a strike
Some -- maybe many -- of the Steelworkers in the Midwest have begun whispering, even shouting the "S" word, but more in their minds than in their union halls.
The word is being mentioned in private discussions and on message boards, but usually as a question rather than a declaration.
Striking always is a possibility, but not a likely one, said both Robinson and Hanson.
"We're not looking for a strike," Robinson said. "Nobody wants to see a strike. Do I think we'll have strike? I don't. I think we'll be able to resolve the issues. People are frustrated, but they understand what's going on." The key is that a contract is being negotiated and, one by one, issues are being resolved, Robinson said.
"We've gotten recall, health care and will have a grievance procedure in place soon," he said. "We're in the process of building an agreement.
Meanwhile, ISG said Tuesday that it started a second blast furnace at its Cleveland mill. The first one was fired up May 22.
ISG now is making about 7,200 tons of iron and 8,700 tons of steel a day in Cleveland. The company said its orders are strong. The company recently brought back 70 former LTV workers and now has about 950 people working in Cleveland.
Its mill in Indiana has one blast furnace operating, although a second is to begin production in August. It has about 1,100 people working.