By Jason Bartles
Steelworkers with Allegheny Technologies, Inc. (ATI), part of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, have voted to end their three-month-long strike and return to work. Despite the strike formally ending, workers have remained on the picket lines for the past week.
Votes on whether to accept the new contract were cast on July 13, with 513 workers voting yes and 427 voting no. The steelworkers have expressed different views of the contract, with one telling Tribune, “This is the best contract we’ve had in 30 years.” However, a large number of workers disapprove of the contract because it lacks guaranteed, no-premium health insurance, protections against termination, and a yearly cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
After the votes were counted, one such steelworker remarked, “My utmost respect to [the steelworkers at] Lockport, Louisville, Latrobe, and Vandergrift for letting your feelings toward another concessionary contract be known by voting collectively as a group a resounding great big no! Kudos to all who marked no!”
ATI made several concessions in order to end the strike. ATI will preserve the pensions for workers laid off from shuttered facilities at Brackenridge, Waterbury, and Louisville. Those still employed will be given a three-percent raise and lump-sum payments of $4,000 each. The company also agreed to improve workplace safety; however, USW reported that ATI is refusing to permit safety inspections. Workers are considering invoking an Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) right to refuse unsafe working conditions—in response, ATI threatened to withhold both the lump-sum payments and health insurance coverage from workers who do so. Frustrated with ATI’s backpedaling, one steelworker told Tribune, “USW should issue a wildcat walk immediately.”
A seemingly ambiguous change in the contract is having all healthcare expenses managed by a voluntary employee beneficiary association (VEBA) plan, which will be jointly administered by the company and the union. VEBA retains the right to raise health insurance premiums, and because steel work is physically dangerous and hazardous to long-term health, the premiums are likely to increase.
Publicly available data on ATI stock ownership reveals that BlackRock, Inc., an investment firm worth $9 trillion, holds a major interest in ATI. BlackRock is also an owner of Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, where the United Mine Workers of America have been leading a strike for the past four months. The BlackRock CEO is billionaire Larry Fink, who acted as an unofficial advisor to former president Trump and then supported Biden’s bid for president. Fink also has ties to the Federal Reserve, which allowed BlackRock to manage troubled assets owned by the Fed during the 2008 economic crisis. When the 2020 economic crisis occurred, BlackRock was again favored by the Fed, which gave them a no-bid contract to participate in its $750 billion corporate bond buy-back program.
Coupled with rising inflation and the lack of a COLA, the company’s plan is to present the workers with some immediate cash, while hedging their bets that market forces will wipe out all gains made by the strike.
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