By Jason Bartles
On Tuesday in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, striking steelworkers from Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) picketed their employers and protested the company’s use of scabs (additional workers brought in to break the strike). The workers were supported by area activists, who joined in chanting at scab workers who crossed the picket line.
Scabs driving vehicles would accelerate when exiting the facility, suggesting they feared confrontation with workers, as the majority of passersby honked their horns and raised their fists in support of the picket.
The company reacted to the picket by placing additional security guards at the gate, who monitored and photographed protesters. One worker pointed out that many of the company guards were Pinkertons who were hired once the strike began. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency is a private security and detective force with a long history of strikebreaking and crimes against workers since the late 1800s.
Workers told Tribune that there are UPS and USPS workers who are refusing to cross the picket line. One such worker, upon realizing there was a picket, unloaded his delivery at the front gate and told the security guard “the company can deal with it.” In addition, retirees from ATI have recently met to discuss how they can support the strike.
Approximately 1,300 ATI workers have been on strike since March 30, while their union, United Steelworkers (USW), continues negotiations with the company. USW is discussing the possibility of having the union take over the employee health insurance plan, and while the company is open to the idea, it is unclear to workers how transferring insurance to the union will affect monthly premiums or access to care.
While better health benefits are a major demand of the workers, they also report that there hasn’t been a single pay raise in seven years. Additionally, workers are concerned about their exposure to toxic fumes. The company forces workers to sign a “voluntary respiratory contract,” requiring workers to wear a personal respirator rather than provide them with adequate ventilation and equipment. There is an ongoing lawsuit against the company for exposing workers to toxic fumes linked to cases of cancer in the workers.
In statements to the ruling-class press, ATI officials used the company’s financial losses in 2020 as a justification for firing workers and keeping pay low. The steelworkers consider this a smokescreen, saying that the company’s losses were caused by the ongoing economic crisis and made worse by lowered demand during the coronavirus pandemic, and are no longer relevant, as the price of steel coils has more than doubled this year.
Despite its alleged financial woes, ATI continues employing the scabs at a higher pay-rate than that of longtime workers, even forgoing drug screening and physical exams that would otherwise be imposed. The scabs, hired through temporary work agencies, are often inexperienced and require close supervision by the non-union foremen who are not on strike. A worker striking at the Washington, Pennsylvania facility told Tribune that three scabs have been injured in workplace accidents since the strike began.
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