Wheeling-Pitt buys shipyards, stiffs striking workers

By Denise Winebrenner, in People's Weekly World,
22 February, 1997

WHEELING, W.Va. - Instead of entering into serious negotiations with United Steelworkers of America (USWA), the Wheeling Pittsburgh (WP) Steel Corporation has dipped into its bank accounts, signing a tentative agreement Feb. 7 to buy shipyards from Bethlehem Steel.

On Oct. 1, 1996, 4,500 steelworkers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia went on strike against WP, demanding restoration of 1980s concessions which brought the company out of bankruptcy. The main issue, in addition to job security and wage increases, is pensions.

WP has refused to even discuss pensions. The company's offer would roll the dice with steelworkers' pensions, tying them to "market conditions." The union has rejected such an irresponsible approach and steelworkers are demanding the $40 a month formula (e.g., 20 years of service and a retiree would receive $800 a month pension, on par with the rest of the steel industry).

WP has $406 million in cash and has already spent $67.5 million on a union-busting media campaign, as of day 135 of the strike, according to steelworkers.. For years, WP has taken a profit of $16 per ton while the industry standard is $8. a ton profit.

On Feb. 22, busloads of steelworkers from Northeast Ohio rolled into the Ohio Valley. The solidarity caravan of workers from LTV, USX and other mills walked the lines and delivered the first checks garnered at national gate collections Feb. 13. Retirees throughout Western Pennsylvania are conducting a food drive following their solidarity bus trip to the WP mill in Allenport, Pa. Jan. 31.

The union has committed $1 million in strike support. Local union presidents from all eight affected WP local unions continue weekly meetings in Washington, Pa.

Meanwhile, the local papers paid for a public opinion poll on the strike, conducted Feb. 8 by Pulse Research, based in Portland, Oregon. This outfit called steelworkers and local residents in 17 communities. The results of the poll were published on Feb. 16.

Despite leading questions, steelworkers and their neighbors indicated, by a 70 percent margin that the union's demands are "reasonable." The company's position was termed "unreasonable" by 70 percent of steelworkers polled and only 34 percent of residents gave any credence to the company's position. On the key issue of pensions, the poll indicated that only 6 percent of steelworkers and 26 percent of residents found the company's claim that it will go bankrupt if it agrees to the steelworkers' pension "believable" - and this after a $67.5 million media campaign by the company.

- Genne Kuhn contributed to this story.

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