The lockout at specialty metals maker Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) is now in its fourth month, with no end in sight. About 2,200 members of United Steelworkers (USW) are out of work in the labor dispute, which affects 12 facilities in six states, including about 180 members of USW Local 7150 at ATI’s titanium plant in Albany, Oregon.
ATI locked out its union employees Aug. 15 after USW didn’t hold a member vote on the company’s contract proposal by the company’s deadline. ATI’s proposal would cut health benefits significantly; make it easier to outsource union members’ work; give one-time $1,500 payments instead of regular hourly wage increases; and for new hires, end retiree health and life insurance benefits and replace the pension with a 401(k).
ATI is operating its plants at a reduced level using replacement workers provided by Strom Engineering, a company that specializes in staffing during strikes and lockouts. Ron Rodgers, USW staff representative for Local 7150, said every weekday six shuttle vans cross the Albany union picket line, transporting about 60 replacement workers, who are housed by the company in a Salem hotel and paid wages above what union members were making.
Meanwhile, the company’s regular employees struggle to get by on $538 a week in unemployment benefits. That’s Oregon’s maximum benefit, but it’s nearly $400 a week less than they were taking home when they were on the job. A union strike and defense fund is providing the equivalent of $200 per member per week to help members who are in financial hardship, distributed on the basis of need. Company health benefits expired at the end of November, but workers can enroll in a less-generous union health plan.
“The company’s intent is to hold us out until our unemployment benefits expire,” Rodgers said.
The unemployment benefits are currently scheduled to last six months, and would end in mid-February. But locked-out workers may get help from the Oregon Legislature. When it holds its one-month short session in February, State Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) will push a bill to extend unemployment benefits an additional six months for workers who are locked-out in a labor dispute. His proposal got a hearing Nov. 16 before the Oregon House Business and Labor Committee.
Rodgers points out that the locked-out workers are out of work through no fault of their own, but they face obstacles to re-employment that other unemployment insurance recipients don’t. Prospective employers might be reluctant to hire them because they would return to ATI when the labor dispute ends.
Member spirits remain high, though, Rodgers said, in part because of the backing of many unions and members of the community — who’ve contributed or visited the picket line with donations of food.
“The support has just been amazing, and it really has helped to motivate and keep our guys’ morale up.”
And Local 7150 continues to help others of the community who are in even tougher straits. On Oct. 14, a dozen locked-out workers painted the house of a local family who needed to sell because of their daughter’s illness. On Nov. 21, USW 7150 sponsored a benefit that raised over $12,000 to help a local mom whose six-year-old daughter is battling leukemia.
No meetings are scheduled with the company.
“We’re prepared for the long haul,” Rodgers said.