BY TONY PRINCE
WARREN, Ohio - After beating back the bosses attempt to run the Warren Consolidated Industries steel mill here with scab labor, members of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Locals 1375 and 6824 voted 1,265 to 237 to approve a new contract October 24. Winning the new agreement, after a nearly two-month battle that began with a company lockout, is a significant victory for the workers in this highly unionized industrial town.
Some 1,500 steelworkers and family members packed the field house at Warren G. Harding high school here October 19, to hear a summary of the proposed contract between the USWA and WCI Steel. Members then had five days to discuss and consider the proposal before voting.
Two central issues in the conflict were successorship
Successorship refers to the clause in the contract stipulating that the union will remain the bargaining unit for the workers if the plant is sold. WCI management wanted to get rid of this clause.
In the new contract, the successorship clause is retained and strengthened. The company's operations must be declared permanently shut down and remain so for eight months before the successorship clause can be voided.
Pensions also improved considerably. Steelworkers under 55 years old retiring after 30 years of work would receive $1,050 per month. There is a graduated scale from age 55 to age 65. A person retiring at age 65 after 30 years would receive $1,650 per month.
The contract also states that, "The Company will not discharge or discipline any employee for any activity related to the work stoppage." This was an important victory as WCI had violence-baited and provoked the strikers in an effort to bust the union.
A number of workers outside the union meeting October 19 shared their opinions of the contract. While there were mixed views of the pension gains, with some workers feeling that it was not enough, the general sense was that the union had won a big victory.
Union came out stronger
Striker Chico Rivera commented, "The union has come out stronger because of this fight. You can see that," pointing to the crowded field house, "the people are here."
Union came out stronger
"The company figured the union was weak," Curtis Bowen, a nozzle setter with 28 years at WCI explained. "But the people stand together more now. We've got a stronger union. Since this has happened I've gotten more involved with the union."
Even millwright Joe Higley, who said he was against the contract, made the point, "It was worth taking a stand. The union's stronger, but this is not what we went out for."
"We didn't get everything this time," said Rivera. "We got a little bit, mostly benefits for the older workers. But we're in a position to come back next time and win some more. We set a good example for other steel negotiations because we didn't lose, we gained."
The steelworkers were aware of the impact that their fight has had in the Mahoning Valley, where Warren is located.
Pat Mangan, a laborer in the mill, said, "The union is still in this valley. This valley was built with the union and it'll stay union."
Mark Kujala, a motor inspector, agreed, "We've made the employers aware that we're not going to be pushed over."
Renee Kolley, whose boyfriend works at WCI, was sitting on the steps outside the meeting. She summed up how the workers had won this important fight. "We all stuck together. That's the best thing. Solidarity does work."
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