Striking AK Steel workers find hard way to go

You know, we’ve been following this situation since it started, at least partly because some union members found this site and commented on it.

I found this interesting, especially some of the numbers near the end.

Cincinnati Enquirer

Allen retired in October, seven months after workers were locked out on Feb. 28. For him, and about 2,500 AK workers, it’s been a rough road.

‘I haven’t done much of anything for nine months. I tried to sell cars for awhile, but that didn’t work out.’
His savings are burning up like coke in a blast furnace. As a single man, he collected $343 a week in strike benefits. Before the lockout, he earned $57,000 a year – three times as much.

So why would someone throw away a perfectly good job?
That’s asked a lot in Middletown, where AK Steel is the ‘company’ in ‘company town.’
Allen knows his hometown is suffering. ‘I think they are getting fed up with hearing people talk about it. They say, ‘You guys are making all kinds of money. Why don’t you go ahead and take it?’ But if we do take it, what do we do in six years if they do it to us again?’
AK’s ‘final offer’ would take away seniority, make AK workers and retirees pay a share of health insurance and would not guarantee how many hours they can get, Allen said. He reckons that would cost him $5,000 a year. And he could be moved to bottom-rung work – like the blast furnace.

‘It’s a total screwed-up mess. You wouldn’t want to go to work.’
Union workers say AK wanted a showdown.

AK Vice President Alan McCoy says, ‘The union doesn’t comprehend that the world and the steel industry have changed drastically, and Middletown has not.’

Bethlehem Steel and other U.S. steel companies declared bankruptcy to shed retiree costs, he explained. AK did not. “Their pension and retiree legacy is zero. Ours is $2.2 billion. In cost per ton, that can add up to $50 more than our competitors.”

And AK’s contract protects 650 job classifications. “It’s the last of the old line contracts,” McCoy said. Unions at other AK plants have cut job classifications to five or seven. “They get it,” McCoy said. “You can’t compete with U.S. companies, much less China, with 650 job classifications.”

And like the auto companies that buy half of AK orders, AK wants workers and retirees to pay a share of health care.

Allen says AK picked a fight and the union can’t back down.

“When we voted down that last contract, they came back with one that just made it worse. Why are they giving us such a hard way to go?”

The answer is in the numbers. The year before the lockout, AK lost $29 million. With temporary workers, it earned $26 million in the same quarter this year.

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