Workers walked out of Cascade Steel Rolling Mills on Easter Sunday — to protest bad faith bargaining by parent company Schnitzer Steel Industries. The strike began 11:30 a.m. April 8, a week after the union contract expired. The McMinnville mill — powered by cheap hydro-electricity from federal dams — melts scrap metal from Schnitzer’s recycling business and uses it to make rebar, wire, and other products. The mill’s 300-plus workers are members of United Steelworkers Local 8378.
Last year, with the economy down, workers offered to extend the previous contract one year with no raise, and the company agreed. Now that production and profit are rising again at the steel mill, they want raises. But the company offer of a four-year contract with 0.5 percent annual raises is unacceptable to members, says Local 8378 president Joe Munger.
“The company is not interested in getting a fair deal and is only interested in spinning our wheels,” Munger told members in an automated phone message after one bargaining session. Schnitzer Steel is demanding contract take-backs, including proposals to:
- double the amount workers pay for health insurance;
- obligate workers to work 16-hour shifts; and
- curtail workers’ right to have union representation during discipline.
Meanwhile, Munger said, management has goaded union members with a series of provocations.
The company says its bargainers are available only two days a week, four hours at a time. Management walked out of one bargaining session, refused to answer calls, and even drew the shades on the office window.
When bargaining team members entered the mill to give co-workers an update, they were followed by management, and a representative of management stood in the break room listening until he was asked to leave. A guard is posted outside the company president’s office, and escorts him to his car when he leaves the building.
At one point, union bargainers even overheard the company HR director on the phone asking someone, “Do you want us to keep screwing around with them?”
In charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Local 8378 accuses the company of failure to bargain in good faith.
The strike had a sort of “dry-run” April 2 when workers left for about four hours after performing a safe shutdown of the plant. Strikers returned to work after the company lawyers complained about the manner in which strike notice had been given.
In the year ending Aug. 31, Schnitzer Steel Industries made $3 million profit at its Cascade Steel Rolling Mills subsidiary. Munger thinks it’s on track to double that for fiscal year 2012. Schnitzer makes most of its money selling auto parts and exporting scrap metal.
In their recently expired contract, union steel workers were paid $18.79 to $29.71 an hour for work in searing heat and deafening noise. Meanwhile, Schnitzer CEO Tamara Lundgren — a former JP Morgan Chase investment banker — was paid over $7 million in compensation in the company’s most recent fiscal year.
[UPDATE: A striking worker was injured April 12 after a security guard drove through the picket line. Details here.]