Steelworkers stood up to ATI lockout, say ‘the bosses underestimated us’

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“Our determination got us this far,” United Steelworkers Local 1138 member Terry Stinson, who works at the Allegheny Technologies mill in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, told the Militant Feb. 28. The union and ATI announced a tentative agreement on a four-year contract Feb. 22. Picket lines remained up while union members at ATI’s 12 facilities in six states discussed the proposal.
USW officials announced March 1 that members voted 5 to 1 to approve the agreement.

“They thought we would cave in after a few weeks. They underestimated us,” said Stinson.

ATI locked out the 2,200 unionists Aug. 15, bringing in replacement workers from scab-herder Strom Engineering. Six months later workers remain determined in face of the company’s drive to cut wages, slash health care, institute 12-hour shifts, cut pensions and contract out more work.

Company President Robert Wetherbee told the media in December the bosses have a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to cut labor costs by imposing a lower tier for new hires, as up to a third of the workers approach retirement.

The Steelworkers have maintained 24-hour picketing and mounted expanded pickets and rallies with other workers, both union and nonunion. Through these actions and regular social events locked-out workers, family members and supporters have gotten to know each other and gained experience. No union member crossed the picket line.

“Many of us are not the same people we were when this started, and that’s a good thing,” Beth Cribbs, a member of USW Local 1196 in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, said Feb. 26. “We have a different relation to one another, to the union, to the hall. Attitudes about how the company treats us have changed. After all, we’re just wage slaves.”

The locked-out workers have extended solidarity to others. Four members of her local joined a rally at the University of Pittsburgh on Feb. 26, said Cribbs, in support of an organizing drive by faculty and graduate employees there and for the fight for $15 an hour and a union.

“They need to make sure that the folks at Midland and Bagdad continue to have jobs,” said Stinson, referring to 600 workers at two mills ATI announced it will close. “As long as they take care of them, I think that is a big step.”

“The company tried to wear down our families. They cut health care in November. In February unemployment benefits ended. However the vote goes, we’re already preparing for the next fight,” said Regina Stinson, an activist in the Wives of Steel union auxiliary.

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