Negotiations are under way on a new contract between the United Steelworkers union and the world's largest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal.
The agreement expiring Sept. 1 covers 14,000 employees, including those at West Virginia's Weirton mill. The parties were far apart on key issues, including wages and benefits, as discussions began Monday in Pittsburgh.
Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal wants to slash wages and benefits by more than $28 per hour, and to have the unilateral right to cut wages during business slowdowns.
It also proposes redesigning incentives, freezing its contributions to certain pension plans, and eliminating retiree health care and pension benefits for workers hired after Sept. 1.
ArcelorMittal wants to reduce life insurance coverage for both active employees and retirees, eliminate voluntary layoff provisions, and raise health care costs for current and future retirees.
The USW says it's also being asked to waive its right to bargain health care issues for retirees.
In a recent membership update, union negotiators said managers have repeatedly ignored workers' suggestions for making operations more efficient. Members have also complained about the lack of promised capital to repair plants.
"If they had lived up to the commitment," the June letter said, "they would have performed better over the last four years."
ArcelorMittal, meanwhile, said it is committed to "a fair agreement that creates a sustainable future for the company and its work force."
However, "to truly become sustainable, ArcelorMittal and the USW must develop a long-term strategy that is successful through the ups and downs of the business cycle," it said.
ArcelorMittal owns and operates 15 facilities in eight states — Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Louisiana and South Carolina. Three plants are covered by individual USW contracts that expire at the same time as the master agreement.