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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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