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Steelworkers can’t vote on a contract?

The United Steelworkers represents almost 700 people at Century Aluminum's smelter at Ravenswood, idled in February 2009. The USW also represents about 700 workers at Constellium's adjacent rolling mill, where Local 5668 went on strike five weeks ago.

Century wants to re-start the smelter. Constellium, which says it has lost money in 11 of the past 13 years, wants to continue to operate.

Health care costs have been an issue in the case of both employers.

The United Steelworkers want to hold the line in both cases.

Constellium now pays 100 percent of workers' health care premiums, although they do have some co-pays. The company recently offered a deal in which employees would pay only 5 percent of the premium.

The Steelworkers rejected Constellium's first offer. But the union did not hold a vote on a second offer Constellium made before the union called a strike.

A unit president for Local 5668 said the union will not hold a vote on Constellium's  most recent offer either.

There can be only one explanation: The union might lose the votes.

Rank-and-file steelworkers do difficult, often dangerous jobs; they have every right to decide the conditions under which they are willing to work.

But it sounds as if the union is not allowing them to make it. Perhaps movement on health care would set a bad precedent for other negotiations.

Whatever the reason, the cost of the strike is coming  out of the pockets and peace of mind of workers and their families. Money lost in a strike is lost forever.

Century workers did receive unemployment benefits, but those benefits pale in comparison to what members of Local 5668 took home when they were working.

Constellium workers have applied for unemployment compensation, but it is not clear that they will get it.

These standoffs cost the rank-and-file dearly.

Perhaps, if the union won't let its members vote - secret ballot - on their own contracts, the members will vote on something else:

Representation.

The union can't prevent that.


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