Photo credit: Todd Barbiaux, United Steelworkers
By Blake Garrison
Tuesday morning, 1,300 steelworkers with United Steelworkers (USW) went on strike against Allegheny Technologies, Inc. (ATI) in six different states. Steelworkers at ATI are expected to work 12 hours a day, five to six days a week, in toxic and dangerous conditions. They have not received a pay increase in seven years, while even during periods of negative profit, the salaries of executives have increased.
In demanding a new contract, one of the workers’ main grievances concerns their health. At the Breckenridge plant, ventilation is kept shut so as not to release emissions, trapping workers inside with fumes so thick it becomes too dark to see across the room. “They are suffocating us in order to maintain EPA standards,” said one worker. “The company doesn’t care about what happens to workers 20, 30 years down the road. One day you just drop dead.”
In 2015, 2,200 ATI steelworkers picketed when they were locked out for 6 months during contract negotiations. Then and now, ATI has hired a workforce of scabs through strikebreaking companies like Strom Engineering to ensure continued production. Workers expressed frustration and doubt about the efficacy of the strike when they are unable to stop scabs.
One worker spoke against the role of bourgeois media in sabotaging their struggle when checking to be sure Tribune reporters were not with a similarly named ruling-class media outlet, “If you’re with Trib Live I’m gonna shoot you,” he said. “Trib Live and other media are voices of the company. They ignore everything the workers are saying.”
Fewer workers are on the picket line today because the company has increasingly contracted out labor and fired workers in less profitable areas to focus on specialized steel for military applications. “When they got rid of the finishing department, that’s when we got worried. Then they got rid of the garages, the railroads,” said a worker, mentioning that many workers have also left if they can find other work because the conditions are so bad.
ATI closed an entire plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, last summer and announced an intent to fire at least 400 more workers this year. Meanwhile ATI executives like CEO Robert Wetherbee, whom workers know for breaking the union at Alcoa, Inc. when he was there, continue to pocket $2 to 5 million apiece in salaries.
The company also wants to implement a three-tier system, which workers are united against. “They’re trying to say the older workers don’t need their pension and the younger workers don’t need a pay increase. We’re fighting it because they’re trying to divide us.” Another worker wanted to encourage younger workers to join the struggle: “Study the history of our region, of unions, and the working class here. And how we have fought for everything.”
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