Vote ‘No’ on USW shadow deal with Cleveland Cliffs

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The United Steelworkers announced a tentative deal with Cleveland-Cliffs on Saturday, but released few details of the deal. Steelworker bureaucracy is forcing workers to vote on an invisible “shadow” contract with little or no information about how wages, benefits and safety conditions will be affected over the next four years.

Steel coil worker (ArcelorMittal media)

If ratified, the contract will come into effect on September 1. The contract covers 12,000 steelworkers in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. While workers are expected to vote on the contract, the USW remains tight-lipped on the voting process. It is possible that many members do not receive clear information on how to vote and that the union tries to manipulate the vote by demoralizing and intimidating the workers. No signing bonus was mentioned.

The few details so far made public demonstrate that the contract is a sellout that must be decisively rejected by Cleveland-Cliffs workers.

According to KSTP.com ABC 5 News in Minneapolis, Minnesota, “The tentative agreement improves wages by more than 20% over current rates and improves current health insurance provisions for workers and retirees. It also includes a commitment for Cliffs to invest $4 billion in USW-represented facilities over the four-year term. Cliffs controls the Minorca mine in Virginia, MN.

Salary increases proposed by Cliffs and the USW amount to approximately 5% each year. With inflation hovering around 8.5%, wage “increases” represent a significant reduction in wages. The attack on living standards will be compounded if workers’ health care costs and union dues increase because of the terms of the contract.

Cleveland-Cliffs President and CEO Laurenco Goncalves praised the union-brokered agreement, “Our employees are the heart and soul of Cleveland-Cliffs. The United Steelworkers is a partner and an ally, and we look forward to sharing our future success together. This agreement allows us to do just that, while maintaining our highly competitive cost structure.

USW International Vice President David McCall, chairman of negotiations with Cliffs, echoed the language of union business leaders in an Aug. 29 USW press release on the deal. “Our tentative agreement with Cliffs management recognizes the vital role Steelworkers have played in the company’s success,” McCall said.

“Our factories will continue to be safer and our jobs and benefits more secure under the proposed agreement…Cliffs is committed to a plan to invest in its USW facilities that will improve production, will create sustainable jobs for USW members and ensure the success of the USW company.” He continued, extending his hand to the leaders of Goncalves and Cliffs: “We look forward to the future knowing that Cliffs understands that our factories run better when management and our union work together to solve problems for the benefit of all. .

It is the first tentative agreement between Cleveland-Cliffs and USW since the mining giant acquired AK Steel and ArcelorMittal USA in 2020 to become the largest flat-rolled steel producer in North America. Workers are facing abject betrayal by the USW after decades spent in the dark during contract negotiations, only to have pro-company deals struck and critical details withheld from members until further notice. at the signing of the agreement.

Workers expressed their opposition to the USW’s anti-democratic tactics in comments on social media in response to the Northwest Indiana Time July 30 article headlined “United Steelworkers Says It’s Making Progress in Fair Contract Negotiations”.

A worker wrote sarcastically: “Phew! Glad the newspaper heard anything before the members. The USW also spoke to the newspaper about our profit sharing? »

Another veteran worker warned other workers: “This is their statement to follow!! Be sure to read the fine print which you will only see after the contract is ratified. I’ve been there many times. In response, another worker wrote, “Like how new hires get paid less. They never mentioned anything like that last contract.

The contract that USW entered into in 2018 at US Steel and ArcelorMittal (later acquired by Cliffs midway through the contract period) provided no protection for new hires or guarantees for wages, nor any protection of employment and security for any of the 30,000 steelworkers covered by the contract. . The agreement was passed after the USW refused to call a strike despite workers voting unanimously to strike at both companies.

Unions have maintained and extended the hated tier system to the benefit of highly profitable industrial companies across North America, notably in the auto industry where workers with 20 years’ experience rub shoulders with new hires who are hired half to one third. better salaries. In the United States, unions maintained the tiers in the name of maintaining the cost structure of “highly competitive” companies under Democratic and Republican administrations.

This system benefits corporations not only by increasing the exploitation of workers, but also by dividing workers inside factories in order to undermine unity and disrupt opposition to the corporate assault on working conditions. and standard of living.

In 2018, workers were deliberately abused by the union. Despite being told to sign up for picket lines, they were never called to strike, then only received ‘highlights’ of a tentative agreement, not the contract complete. Then they were told to mail ballots that would be counted without the supervision of rank and file workers.

The USW has insisted that its joint collaboration with management in health and safety oversight, written into the very management-friendly contracts it places, will keep workers safe on the job. Steelworkers know from experience that is a lie. Safety conditions in mines and factories remain as dangerous as ever, as each new contract allows the company to cut jobs and increase the heavily exploited contract workforce without providing proper training.

Workers face deadly conditions at factories operated by Cliffs. In July, a young steelworker was seriously injured at the USW-represented Cleveland-Cliffs Indiana Harbor plant in East Chicago, Indiana, when he was pinned under a coil of steel. Two days earlier, a 46-year-old worker was killed at the company’s Middleton Works hot strip mill, where workers are “represented” by the International Association of Machinists.

Throughout negotiations with Cliffs, the USW hid important details from the workers. He sent vague email and text updates throughout the closed-door meetings with management, all rehashing the claim that the USW was working to negotiate a fair contract and that “the interactions with management have remained positive”.

The Cleveland-Cliffs negotiations will establish the bargaining model for US Steel workers. Contrary to the tone of blatant collaboration with management, the USW is pretending to take a “tough” stance in negotiations with US Steel. The reality is, however, that whatever rotten deal the USW manages to force on the workers of Cleveland Cliffs, it will then try to ram the workers of US Steel down their throats.

The USW is a pro-corporate organization whose class allegiance has been on full display since the outbreak of the US-NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine when USW International President , Tom Conway, held closed meetings with the Biden administration to give the union. word that it would prevent a nationwide strike by oil workers in the United States. The result was a sellout deal that imposed tiny wage increases, well below the raging rate of inflation.

This time around, there is not even mention of a strike vote among steelworkers, despite the past four years marked by mass layoffs, factory deaths and skyrocketing inflation. In the wake of its Las Vegas convention, during which it further solidified itself with the corporate ruling class against the global working class, the USW betrayed tire workers at Bridgestone, Goodyear and Michelin by pushing sold-out contracts after calling off a strike by Goodyear workers. in North Carolina moments after announcing a tentative deal.

The workers have every right to be skeptical of this agreement in principle. The World Socialist Website urges steelworkers in Cleveland-Cliffs and US Steel to campaign for the rejection of the contract. Organizing this opposition demands that workers take the initiative to organize their own rank-and-file democratic committees independent of the USW to discuss their demands and organize a real struggle against the company. As long as the steelworkers’ struggle remains subordinate to the USW, it will be sabotaged and betrayed.

Workers have a powerful example in the rank-and-file Volvo Workers’ and Dana Auto Parts Workers’ Committees, which have organized powerful opposition to UAW and USW-backed sell-out contracts independent of the union bureaucracy. Metalworkers need the support of their international working class allies to organize a united opposition against the union bureaucracy that rests like a dead weight on working class power in its struggle to end the capitalist system of labor exploitation. for private profit.

The WSWS will provide political and organizational support to steelworkers who want to learn more about how to take the first steps in organizing a grassroots committee to fight opposition to these contracts. Contact us today to get in touch.

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