Long ATI lockout ends with Steelworkers win

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PITTSBURGH (PAI) - Allegheny Technologies' long lockout of its Steelworkers nationwide ended March 14 with a big union win. Workers returned to their jobs under the new 4-year pact, which they ratified by a 5-to-1 ratio days before.

The firm, which has 12 plants in six states, settled 10 days after the National Labor Relations Board stated on Feb. 22 that Allegheny, also called ATI, did not bargain in good faith for a new contract, and thus its lockout was illegal. NLRB's 31-page brief had many charges.

ATI locked out its 2,200 workers last August 15, just before they were to vote, and presumably reject, its "last, best and final" offer full of concessionary demands.

Had ATI not settled and then been found guilty in an NLRB judicial hearing, ATI would have been on the hook for millions of dollars in back pay to the USW members.

The lockout lasted through the fall and winter. The workers, sometimes literally frozen out of their jobs, walked picket lines to garner community support. At least one line, in Bagdad, Pa., just before Christmas, continued in the midst of a snowstorm.

"The strength and solidarity of our union paid off with a fair contract that contains virtually none of the drastic concessions ATI sought to arbitrarily impose," said USW President Leo Gerard.

The union said the new contract "protects retirement benefits and maintains affordable, quality health care for active workers and retirees. It protects union jobs against outside contractors, maintains the grievance procedure and other important contract language, and introduces a new profit-sharing system that allows USW members a bigger share in ATI's future success."

"ATI launched a well-prepared, well-funded campaign of intimidation and manipulation, recruiting scabs and security guards for the lockout, before bargaining even started in the spring of 2015," the union added.

It also presented "a jaw-dropping list of...145 deep and permanent concessions that would have erased decades of progress, significantly increased health care costs for retirees and created an unacceptable and divisive two-tier benefit system." 

Union Vice President Tom Conway said ATI's plan from the first day of the lockout "was to starve us out, to push the lockout into February when unemployment benefits would begin to run out and then force us to accept its insulting 'best, last and final' offer." It didn't work.

"This is a tremendous victory for a very brave group of workers. They should be proud of this agreement, and of the resolve they demonstrated throughout this 6-month ordeal. They showed us all the strength that we can have when we stand together in unflinching solidarity," Gerard said.

The Northwest Labor Press in Oregon, whose area includes an ATI plant Albany, Ore., added some contract details. They include: Establishing a 401(k) plan for new hires rather than putting them under the traditional pension system, no retiree health insurance for those new hires, but an extra 50 cents per hour in company 401(k) contributions to help them pay for later health care, 90 percent company payments of current workers' health insurance premiums, a $3,500-per-worker signing bonus spread out over four years, and a dollar-an-hour raise in base pay.

ATI also increased company-paid supplemental unemployment benefits for workers laid off when a plant is temporarily idled, the paper said.

The Northwest Labor Press contributed material for this story.

Photo: Locked-out steelworkers  protest, even in a snowstorm, against Allegheny Technologies, in this case in Bagdad, Pa., last Dec. 15. The firm's 6-month lockout ended with a Steelworkers win and a new 4-year contract, as ATI settled before losing a big NLRB unfair labor practices strike case. Steelworkers photo via PAI Photo Service.