Steel Producers, Farmers Await Word on Tariffs

NLMK, Fresh from Tariff Win, Makes New Contract Offer

FARRELL, Pa. – NLMK USA has sent a new contract proposal to the leadership of United Steelworkers Local 1016, which has been on strike since Aug. 22 at its Roemer Boulevard steel plant.

The proposal, outlined publicly in a news release distributed Nov. 25, includes “several changes” to the company’s previous offer “to address specific concerns we have heard from the bargaining committee.”

The beefed-up contract offer follows a settlement Nov. 16 with the federal government, in which NLMK was refunded “a significant amount” of tariffs it was forced to pay since 2018 to obtain slab products needed at its three manufacturing plants in the United States.

Some 400 workers remain off the job, alleging unfair labor practices. The plant operates as a conversion mill, turning slabs into hot-rolled and cold-rolled coils, its website states. It is part of the NLMK Group, the largest steelmaker in Russia.

Workers at a sister plant, Sharon Coating at 277 N. Sharpsville Ave. in Sharon, Pa., remain on the job.

USW Local 1016 “has chosen not to be available to negotiate from Nov. 13 to Dec. 11,” the company said in its Nov. 25 statement. “We felt it was in the best interest of our employees to continue to negotiate and we have sent our latest offer to them via email. We did not want to go nearly a month without any progress.”

As of this posting, calls to union leaders seeking comment have not been returned.

Workers set up their picket line in August.

In announcing its new contract offer, NLMK said while it wants to get striking employees back to work, it is “operating the facility well and has been fulfilling the demand from customers. The company is also prepared to support the customers for the duration of the strike no matter how long it lasts.”

Central to the NLMK strike is a proposed high-deductible health care plan that union members have overwhelmingly rejected.

The new contract offer changes out-of-pocket health care costs.

Health savings account contributions have been “front-loaded … so that the employee choosing to participate in the [high-deductible health-care] plan will have 100% of all their potential health-care costs fully covered for the first year they participate,” the company said. “This front loading will be there for them if they choose this health care option in either the first year or the second year of the contract.”

A newly proposed incentive system “will enable the employees to get the higher wage rate they have been seeking. This incentive system is based on tons shipped and will be committed to in the contract,” the company said.

Rules regarding personal time off also have been modified.

As the strike dominated news reports about NLMK operations, the company achieved a major victory Nov. 16 in its lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, which denied its request for exclusions from Section 232 steel tariffs.

NLMK USA filed the suit Feb. 27 in the U.S. Court of International Trade. It covered 86 requests for slab exclusions submitted in 2018. The requests were denied based on representations from other U.S. steel companies that they were willing and able to supply the products NLMK USA required.

The company challenged this, insisting that American mills did not manufacture the products in the quality and quantity required.

In the settlement, without admitting that it had acted improperly, the government agreed to refund to NLMK USA a significant portion of the tariffs it has paid, with accrued interest.

NLMK USA company did not disclose the dollar amount.

Russian parent company NLMK Group says it invested more than $800 million in its three plants in United States plants, and employs more than 1,100. U.S. production capacity is 800,000 tons of steel and 2.9 million tons of rolled products.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.