CLEVELAND - At a special meeting of the Basic Steel Industry Conference held here Jan. 29, the United Steelworkers of America mapped out emergency plans to rally support for 4,500 workers on strike since Oct. 1 against Wheeling- Pittsburgh Steel Corporation.
The meeting authorized a massive increase in strike support funds and plans for an all-out corporate campaign against the steelmaker, now owned by the WHX holding company.
"We see this strike as Round One of the 1999 basic steel industry negotiations affecting 80,000 members," said Pat Gallagher, Vice President of USWA Local 1157 at LTV Steel in Cleveland. "If we let Wheeling-Pitt break the pattern, it will undermine all of our contracts."
The company, he said, is demanding elimination of long- standing seniority, craft and contracting-out protections, gutting of health insurance coverage and continuation of a vastly inferior pension plan imposed in 1985 under conditions of bankruptcy.
The union, citing the company's unusually high profits, is rejecting all take-aways and insisting that pensions be brought in line with the rest of the industry.
"Wheeling-Pitt makes more dollars per ton than any other company," said Gallagher. "And they are bragging they can sit out a strike because they have a $406 million cash fund they got from legal maneuvers when the company was taken over by WHX."
According to union calculations, the interest on this fund alone would cover the USWA's entire pension proposal for the next three years.
To counter the company's attempt to use its resources to break the strike, the Basic Steel conference voted to establish a special strike support fund, with each of the 80 basic steel locals contributing one dollar per week per member. This could amount to approximately $350,000 per month. Furthermore, International President George Becker announced that the union would provide an additional $1 million to its Strike and Defense Fund specially earmarked for the Wheeling-Pitt workers.
A corporate campaign was also outlined including plans to picket the WHX headquarters at 110 East 59th St. in New York City, to deluge the company with e-mail protests and calls to its phone number, (212) 355-5200. In addition, each union district plans to send delegations to the picket lines on a rotating basis.
The Basic Steel conference immediately followed three days of visits to picket lines by Becker and other union leaders and rallies in Allenport, Pa., and Wheeling, West Virginia. The actions were taken in response to a massive company media blitz aimed at dividing a wedge between the embattled locals and the international union.
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