U.S. Steel’s CEO is Playing a Dangerous Game of Chicken with the Markets, Steelworkers and America

Richard Cucarese

Richard Cucarese Rapid Response Coordinator, USW Local 4889

With the dog days of summer upon us, many people spent their Labor Day cooling off in pools, heading to the beaches, or just relaxing in the shade without any thoughts of work entering their minds. 

But for approximately 16,000 members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union employed at the mills of the U.S. Steel Corp., the holiday took on a brand new meaning as they prepared themselves for the possibility of the largest work stoppage in the domestic steel industry since 1986. This was in response to U.S. Steel coming to the bargaining table that weekend with a contract proposal nearly as regressive and damaging than ones offered just weeks earlier.

Just three years ago, U.S. Steel was on the verge of bankruptcy, a situation caused by a mixture of bad business decisions, poorly timed austerity measures and illegally subsidized, underpriced Chinese steel dumped onto world markets.

 It was at this time that the Steelworkers agreed to freeze wages over three years and give up the guarantee of a 40-hour work week, reducing it to 32, in the hopes that when the company rebounded, it would reward the work force in the next round of contract talks.

In the ensuing years, U.S. Steel did flourish. This was due to the labor of its dedicated and skilled workers, as well as tariffs imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump.

U.S. Steel also received a large tax break this year from Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration, aiding the company’s ability to invest. Shareholders revived their faith in the industry, moving U.S. Steel’s stock from lowly single digits back to respectability.

Over the past few months, with their labor contract set to end, USW members felt confident their hard-fought efforts to help restore the corporation to its best financial position in a decade would be rewarded.

But CEO David Burritt had other plans, approaching the contract negotiations with an insulting offer of minimal pay raises that would immediately be wiped out by astronomical increases in what workers would have to pay for health insurance over a proposed six-year period. 

Burritt wanted to eliminate overtime rules, give the corporation the ability to shorten work weeks with no notice, change health plans with no notice and institute a plethora of other injustices that would wipe out 70 years of USW collectively bargained improvements for workers.

With their backs against the wall, the USW contract committee authorized strike votes for the week of Labor Day.

David Burritt is playing a dangerous game of chicken with the American people. With tariffs in place, and the possibility of Congress passing an infrastructure bill, projections are for the steel business to boom.  

Burritt also is playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with his shareholders, who may abandon ship, feeling a work stoppage at this critical juncture would injure the company, plunging U.S. Steel back into single digits and poor bond ratings and preventing needed investments in the mills from ever taking place.

Lastly, Burritt is playing a dangerous game with the Steelworkers. Burritt and his upper echelon executives lavishly have rewarded themselves with over $40 million dollars in compensation since 2015. In addition, they gave shift managers $10,000 to $30,000 annual bonuses. Meanwhile, Steelworkers scraped by without raises for years and thousands at the Granite City, Ill., mill remained idled, wondering if they’d ever work again.

America’s workers, not its fat-cat CEOs like Burritt, are the drivers of the capitalist machine. If a strike occurs, it will be because of Burritt’s refusal to allow workers a just portion of the profits their labor created.

Writing of the Little Steel strike in 1937, Upton Sinclair put it perfectly: “The purpose of the strike is to teach you what capitalism is; to free you from the accepted falsehoods of your class.”

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You can contact Richard on Twitter @stlwrkr4889.

Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work