Steelworkers are in contract negotiations with two of the country’s largest steel producers, United States Steel and ArcelorMittal. The old contract expired at the start of September, and the workers have authorized a strike against both companies. Workers say they’re not benefiting from the industry’s rising prices and profits, which were brought on partly from the Trump administration’s 25 percent tariffs on steel imports.
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers, about where he thinks negotiations are headed and the likelihood of a strike.
On if steelworker strikes will happen
“That depends on the progress or lack of progress we make at negotiations. Our members are frustrated and angry at most of those two major companies at all facilities, and our union has played a very, very, very key role for the last 20 years of struggling every day to help the steel industry survive. We went through a period in 2003 roughly where there were 40 bankruptcies.
“In the last collective agreement at both Arcelor and U.S. Steel, our members took three years with no wage increase or benefit improvements, because the company was again teetering. Now they’re going to make $2 billion roughly at U.S. Steel, and substantially the same kind of amount that ArcelorMittal, and they come asking for concessions, they play hide the pea, they give us a wage increase but then tell us they’re going to take away our incentive programs. They want a six-year agreement, when we don’t know what the industry will be doing six months, six years from now. It’s kind of off in the distance, and we’re not going to settle for a six-year deal.”
On whether the Trump administration’s steel tariffs have been good policy overall, or just for steelworkers
“I think again, half the information is correct, half is not correct. The industry started to turn around before the Trump tariffs. In fact, the industry was starting to turn around in the last year or so as a result of the work that we had done on productivity, the work that we had done on bad trade, with trade cases we’ve had in a number of countries that were cheaters, and that’s started to have an impact. There’s no doubt that the percentage by President Trump has added some help to that. But they were on their way to making money before that.
“What is troubling is … not only the tariff increase, but they’re also going to get a huge benefit from the tax changes down to 21 percent. And while they’re doing that, they want to shift the tax burden for health care onto our members. I mean again, it’s hide the pea and they think we can’t figure out. Well, we have.”
On how long the steel tariffs might last
“I haven’t got a clue. There’s been all kinds of comments by all kinds of folks on both sides of the issue. I know this: The United Steelworkers of America have taken on the challenge of confronting unfair trade, and filed trade cases against countries that cheat. South Korea, China, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, a lot of countries that actually don’t play by the trade rules that we already think are weak. But even with those weakened trade rules, we’ve won many, many trade cases and we’ve done that together with the industry, and we’re going to continue to do it, tariff or no tariff.”