Steelworkers' settlement at Wah Chang remains uncertain

ALBANY - Despite indications from management that they were ready to accept a "framework" for settling a six-month-old lockout at Allegheny Wah Chang three weeks ago, the company delivered a "best and final" offer to the union March 6 that fails to comply with that framework.

The negotiating team for Steelworkers Local 6163 spent more than 2 1/2 hours the following day in a teleconference with their international representative, Bob Bratulich, and officials from Wah Chang "re-addressing issues" they thought had been tentatively agreed to a year ago.

"There is language in their latest proposal that we simply can't live with," said Local 6163 Recording Secretary Terry Wilson.

The union drafted and sent a counter-offer and was waiting for a reply as this issue went to press. Wilson said the Pittsburgh-based company's last proposal again goes after health insurance for retirees. That issue was a sticking point wich ultimately led to the lockout Sept. 4 of 690 Steelworkers.

"We finalized a complete proposal addressing economic and all of the other issues," Wah Chang spokes-man Jim Denham told the Albany Democrat-Herald. "It is a complete proposal for all of the contractual elements." Wilson said she and many union members "feel like we're further away (from a settlement) than ever before." On Feb. 14, union members thought the end was near after a federal mediator worked out a "framework for settlement" with both sides. At a "solidarity rally" at the front gate of the company Feb. 17, union officials declared victory and announced plans for returning to work in late March.

"That was our Valentine's Day sweetheart deal," said Wilson. "But it's turned into a wilted flower."

While the union waits for a response from Wah Chang, picketing continues 24 hours a day at the plant on Old Salem Road in Millersburg, located a few miles north of Albany.

On Friday, March 15, a concert will be held to raise money for the locked-out workers. "The Lock Out Rock Out" will be held at the Corvallis Elks Club, 1400 NW 9th St., starting at 8 p.m. Musical guests are Silver Creek, General Strike and Thais Perkins. Admission is $5.

The union continues to need help for its members - in the form of cash contributions and groceries. Send or deliver contributions to USWA Local 6163, 1400 Salem Ave. SE, Albany, Oregon 97321-4632.

Wah Chang is operating with about 430 mostly out-of-state temporary employees in addition to administrative employees.

March 15, 2002 issue

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