The nationwide lockout of 2,200 steel workers by Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) entered its fifth week Sept. 12. The lockout includes 180 workers at ATI’s Oremet titanium plant in Albany, Oregon, who are members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7150. (Members of USW Local 6163 at ATI’s nearby Wah Chang plant have a separate contract that runs to 2017, and aren’t part of the lockout.)
Steelworkers met with ATI Sept. 11 with the assistance of a federal mediator. The union made a proposal to end the lockout, but the company failed to respond, holding fast to its last, best and final offer. It was the first meeting between the sides since July 2.
ATI began the lockout Aug. 15 after
union members refused to accept the union failed to schedule a vote on ATI’s final offer before a deadline ATI had set. ATI’s final offer would significantly cut health insurance benefits, give greater latitude to contract out work done by union members, substitute annual lump sum payments for hourly wage increases, and end pension and retiree health insurance for new hires. The previous union contracts — which cover 12 ATI mills in six states — expired June 30.
ATI is attempting to produce metal at its plants using replacement workers provided by Strom Engineering, the same company that American Crystal Sugar employed during a 22-month lockout of 1,300 members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers that ended in 2013. In the ATI dispute, Strom has advertised replacement worker wages of $1,700 – $3,000 a week for those willing to work 12 hour days and 84 hours a week.
Ron Rodgers, USW staff representative for Local 7150, said replacement workers showed up at ATI’s Oremet Albany plant Sept. 4, in a convoy of five 18-passenger vans with tinted windows. Trucks are also arriving at the plant from ATI’s other Albany facility, though not driven by union members.
As the lockout lengthens, USW Local 7150 has begun to reach out to other Oregon unions asking for support. Locked-out workers are entitled to unemployment benefits, but that’s far below the income they earn on the job. The international union is providing strike/lockout benefits that amount to $200 per member per week; those funds are pooled by the local and distributed on the basis of need.
Leading up to the start of the school year, donations from union and community members provided backpacks and school supplies to 67 children of locked-out workers.
Local elected officials have also been turning up at the picket line to show support, including Congressman Peter DeFazio, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, State Sen. Sara Gelser, and Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa (who’s married to Teamsters Local 305 business agent Steve Konopa). Konopa also asked Albany City Council to pass a resolution of support for the workers, but the other council members preferred a neutral statement urging both sides to resolve the dispute.
Rodgers said one of the biggest things supporters can do is just stop by the picket line and say hello. “We appreciate all the support we’ve been getting,” Rodgers said. “That means a lot to the members, and helps keep them inspired.”
HOW TO HELP
■ Drop by the picket line at 530 SW 34th Ave., Albany.
■ Send a check for any amount to the USW 7150 Strike and Defense Fund, 1400 Salem Ave., Albany, Oregon, 97321.