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Allegheny Steel Lockout

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Locked-out steelworkers at ATI's Vandergrift Mill. Mark Spiering

On December 21, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Allegheny Technologies committed a labor violation when it locked out workers at steel plants across the country back in August. This could lead to some sort of settlement, although these things move none too quickly. The lockout is nothing less than an attempt to crush the union and force massive concessions, including two-tiered contracts. The United Steelworkers has refused to cave on this. A few weeks ago, Steven Greenhouse had a great piece on what this lockout is about. It says all too much about the corporate war against working people in the United States:

As unions have weakened in recent decades, more corporations have turned to lockouts to wring givebacks from their workers. In this latest showdown, Allegheny has taken on the nation’s biggest, most combative industrial union. If the steelworkers lose, it could prompt another wave of me-too concessions and represent a further humbling of organized labor just as it was starting to gain ground on other fronts.

“The employer is playing hardball, there’s no doubt about it,” said Richard Hurd, a professor of industrial and labor relations at Cornell University. “It puts a lot of pressure on the workers and the union.”

Already, Allegheny’s three-and-a-half-month lockout has dealt a painful blow to this aging, blue-collar town, 22 miles upstream from Pittsburgh, raising doubts about whether the new rolling mill, with its bright blue walls soaring 40 feet above the river, will ever provide the big economic lift it had promised.

Company executives say that they need lower labor costs and that no one will gain if the new plant can’t thrive in the global economy.

But many steelworkers say Allegheny is seeking to enhance its own prosperity at their expense. They contend the company is undermining the middle class in the nation’s industrial heartland by demanding a two-tier contract with lesser benefits for future hires, insisting upon a four-year wage freeze and requiring many employees to pay at least $2,000 more a year for health coverage.

Of course, the following is to be expected now:

The steelworkers are further angered because they’re being pressed for major concessions after Allegheny’s chief executive, Richard Harshman, received $8 million in compensation last year, up 70 percent from the previous year. His 2014 pay jumped because of a larger base salary, a $1.4 million bonus, more stock awards and a pension that was valued higher.

Well yeah, how are we supposed to pay CEOs 70% raises while not undermining stock prices if we can’t drive workers into poverty? Welcome to the New Gilded Age!

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  • jim, some guy in iowa

    well, damn, if Allegheny needs lower labor costs I’m sure there are plenty of young up-and-coming ceo-types that would work for a million or three less

  • Linnaeus

    Manufacturing is old hat. These workers should have learned to code.

    • cpinva

      “These workers should have learned to code.”

      if for no other reason, so that they could hack their way into the plant’s computer system, and wreck the place. knowledge is a potentially dangerous thing.

  • Gwen

    In unrelated news, LGM’s favorite supagenius just got fired.

    http://deadspin.com/eagles-fire-chip-kelly-1750203858

  • Brett

    Well yeah, how are we supposed to pay CEOs 70% raises while not undermining stock prices if we can’t drive workers into poverty? Welcome to the New Gilded Age!

    Hell, he’s probably being rewarded/rewarding himself for drastically slashing costs, or at least trying to do so. That’s the type of shit that the investors owning Alleghany stock no doubt love.

    EDIT: Never mind, I understand it now.

    • Brad Nailer

      Gee, you’d almost think the CEO/investor class didn’t care about workers except as little cogs in their big machine. The Sixties were so stupid!

  • Joseph Slater

    Interesting, but the links are a bit frustrating (not Erik’s fault) in that they don’t explain why the NLRB found the lockout to be legally problematic or even exactly what stage of the process the legal claim is in. If it hasn’t even reached the ALJ stage, as the first link seems to say, then all that has happened is the local NLRB region has issued a charge, and all that means is that there is enough evidence of a ULP to go to a hearing. That would mean there hasn’t been any kind of hearing yet, and thus no actual finding of an unfair labor practice by the employer.

    I’m also curious about the what the allegations are, because lockouts — even aggressive ones to force lousy terms on a weakened union — aren’t generally illegal. Lockouts can be illegal in some circumstances, e.g. if they are part of a broader pattern of failing to bargain in good faith. I’m guessing that’s the claim here. But it would be nice if one of the link authors explained that.

    • You’d be surprised at how hard it is to find out any information about what is going on in that case, or with the lockout generally. The USW does a terrible job with communications and public relations.

      • Bruce Vail

        Oh, I disagree that USW does a terrible job at communications and public relations (of course at In These Times we publish USW President Leo Gerard’s weekly columns).

        The bureacracy is sometimes slow and cumbersome, but I have had excellent results dealing with them. Also, NLRB documents are generally not hard to get as long as you use the FOIA process.

        • I’ve talked to fairly prominent labor and business reporters who tell me of being repeatedly blown off by USW when asked for statements, with people wanting to do everything by e-mail, etc. They don’t do a good job of getting material out to sympathetic reporters and bloggers and their Twitter feed is largely useless. I could do a better job for them.

          • Bruce Vail

            Wanting to do everything by e-mail is pretty commonplace in business and labor reporting these days. It’s even worse when dealing with most federal government agencies, who typically demand an FOIA request and long delays before producing documents of any kind.

            That USW public affairs staff fails to produce statements at the whim of your ‘fairly prominent labor and business reporters’ surprises me not at all. It’s a bureaucratic organization that moves slowly, and sometimes not at all. The same is true of other unions, corporations and government agencies. And USW tries to manage the media to its own benefit, just like those other bureaucracies.

            My experience has been that USW is better with their press relations than most unions. Not perfect, but better.

            • And by doing so, one can find out almost no current information about this lockout.

              • Bruce Vail

                Okay, what is it you want to know? I’ll try to find out for you. We’ll test your hypothesis that USW won’t provide current information?

                • Joseph Slater

                  Well, I’m still curious about:

                  (a) This is just the Board deciding to issue a charge, not an actual finding of a ULP, right?

                  and

                  (b) Given that lockouts are generally legal, what’s the basis of the charge (or whatever the NLRB action was)? Again, the most likely exception to the general rule that comes to my mind is a claim that this is just part of a broader failure to bargain in good faith. Is that right? If so, what facts support that?

                • Bruce Vail

                  Hello Joseph,

                  I wondered whether you’d seen this Dec. 18 press release from the USW on the NLRB action you refer to:

                  http://www.usw.org/news/media-center/releases/2015/nlrb-to-issue-complaint-alleging-four-month-ati-lockout-is-illegal2

                  This release by itself answers most of your question. Note that the press release also provides the phone number and e-mail address for R.J. Hufnagel, a USW public affairs spokesperson who is available to reporters interested in writing about the story.

                • Joseph Slater

                  No, I hadn’t seen that, so thanks! My suspicions were correct about what was going on — so it’s not really fair to say that the NLRB has found anything illegal yet.

                  Re the union’s allegations about using economic weapons to pursue goals on permissive subjects, I wonder what those subjects were.

                • Bruce Vail

                  Hello Joseph,

                  Yeah, it seems clearer now. I’ve made inquiries at USW and suspect that we will find the answers to your additional questions in the filings that the union has made to NLRB.

                  Any working reporter would request copies of the relevant documents from USW, Allegheny or NLRB. Neither USW nor Allegheny are under any obligation to respond to a reporter’s request of this kind, but the NLRB will do so if a formal FOIA request is filed. The NLRB’s response time to FOIA requests is usually too long to make it a practical tool for a lot of working reporters, but the relevant documents will usually become available to anyone who is willing to wait.

          • Stack

            Well, apparently Steven Greenhouse, you know, the reporter you quoted extensively above, had no problem getting information from the USW.

      • one of the blue

        You can find a USW press release here that describes pretty accurately where the NLRB is in this process.

        But for the benefit of people who do not deal with this kind of stuff every day, the NLRB region has issued/will issue a formal complaint against the company. If as is highly likely the company does not settle at this point, there will be a trial in front of an NLRB administrative law judge (ALJ). If the ALJ decides in the union’s favor, the company can appeal to the full board in Washington. If the company doesn’t like the full board’s decision it can appeal to the federal courts (I believe all these go to the DC circuit’s appeals bench), and then of course the company has the option to appeal it to the Supreme Court. The process at the regional level will take from a few weeks to a few months. The full board process tends to take a year or so. (The board deals with a LOT of cases.) The court process can take two-four years and sometimes longer. The company can settle at any time during this process if it offers the union something decent on which it can agree.

        If the lockout is declared illegal the company can owe back pay for the entire time. so as the process drags on in the courts the back pay bill gets bigger and bigger, and if the union’s case is good enough, and the company gets worried enough about losing outright, then there is a significant incentive for it to settle.

        • noturlawyer

          Per Section 10(f) of the Act, the appeal from the Board may be to either the DC Circuit or “any United States court of appeals in the circuit wherein the unfair labor practice in question was alleged to have been engaged in or wherein such person resides or transacts business.”

      • Stack
  • noturlawyer
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