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NLMK Refutes Union, Accuses USW of ‘Campaign of Lies’

FARRELL, Pa. — In a statement released to the press Wednesday afternoon, NLMK refuted all claims made by the United Steelworkers leadership and USW Local 1016-03.

NLMK says it is “deeply concerned” with the union’s role in “misinforming our employees and the public at large of their reasons for walking away from their high paying jobs.” The company addressed all allegations made by the union leading up to the strike that began over the weekend at the NLMK Pennsylvania plant on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Central to the union’s reasons for the strike is a health care plan that the union has called “undesirable.” While neither party has elaborated on specific numbers, Local 1016-03 President Jim Wells says the “high-deductible insurance that they’ve tried to put in for the past three contracts” has been voted down by membership twice before.

In its statement, NLMK says the plan the company proposes is “more suitable in today’s industrial environment,” and that the company has offered incentives to help employees through the transition.

NLMK allows it is seeking a “small monthly increase” in the amount an employee is required to pay. The existing Preferred Provider Organization, or PPO, plan costs a family $185 monthly “for basically 100% coverage of all medical costs plus a small office visit copay,” the company states.

“The increases that we have proposed would still be well below the market averages for similar PPO plans with similar coverages,” the company states. “While the USW leadership has recognized that an increase in an employee’s premium is acceptable, the amount they offered to pay is less than what NLMK believes is warranted.”

For the next four years, employees can choose between the PPO plan for the high deductible health plan, for which NLMK says it would contribute $2,350 into a health care savings account annually for the first three years of the new contract and $1,550 for the fourth year. It states that the maximum yearly expense an employee will be responsible for is $2,150 annually for the first three years of the contract. The company asserts employees will “absolutely pay less” for the coverage than under the current plan.

Protesters rally outside of NLMK Pennsylvania on Monday.

In an emailed response for a statement, a staff representative for USW District 10 says the membership “adamantly objects to the high deductible plan, they simply do not like or trust it, and they voted resoundingly to reject it.”

“For its part, the company has not claimed that costs of the insurance or overall competitiveness are not issues,” the representative says. “Rather, the company seeks ‘alignment’ of the bargaining unit plan with that of the salaried personnel. Salaried personnel have previously been forced into the high deductible plan.

“Underscoring that cost is not a factor, the company rejected a union proposal for a coverage alternative that was agreed would save the company nearly a quarter million dollars in the first year of a new contract.”

Regarding the recent death of an NLMK employee and the alleged subsequent termination of that employee’s health care coverage for his family, the company says “it is a travesty and a shame for the USW leadership to use the unfortunate passing of a co-worker as a rallying cry during negotiations.”

The company states the family could retain the health care coverage through COBRA “Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) if they continued to pay the premiums, a practice that has been consistent through the years, according to the statement.

The company alleges the union “is acutely aware of this long-standing practice,” and that NLMK agreed to pay for the first 30 days of COBRA health care coverage for the employee’s surviving family.

“More important, the USW leadership has further concealed the fact that we have reached an agreement with them to treat future situations the same way,” the company states. “These details are omitted in what the USW leadership has communicated and can only be interpreted as their intention to twist the truth to make NLMK look bad in the eyes of the public and to our employees. Again, it is clear the USW leadership continues to engage in a campaign of lies and it is sad to see the memory of a deceased employee used to create drama instead of supporting the family.”

The USW District 10 representative reiterates that the company “took immediate action to cease and eliminate health insurance coverage” to the employee’s surviving spouse. He states it’s the union’s position that the practice has been ton continue coverage until the end of the month in which an employee dies. The employee died July 3.

The representative agrees that NLMK agreed to the proposal that would prevent this type of situation from happening again, he asserts the company tied that proposal to the acceptance of the high deductible health care plan.

“Worse, the company cut proposed wage increases by 0.5% in each year of the agreement and eliminated a proposed $3,000.00 lump sum payment due to each employee in what a appears to be a vindictive response to the union’s singular proposal to address health coverage for surviving dependents of an employee who dies,” he said.

Read below for the full text of NLMK’s response:

External Communication Message 8/25/2020
We at NLMK are deeply concerned with the path the USW leadership has taken in terms of misinforming our employees and the public at large of their reasons for walking away from their high paying jobs. We are resolved in conveying the truth and setting the record straight about the Steelworkers’ walkout in this very complex time we find ourselves.

First, on Sunday, August 23, a reporter for the Sharon Herald was brutally assaulted by a Steelworker while attempting to take pictures. NLMK has reviewed the video of the assault of this innocent reporter which took place on Roemer Boulevard just outside of our main gate and we are appalled by the unprovoked act of violence committed by the Steelworker. NLMK unequivocally will not condone physical violence of any nature and will not hesitate to notify local law enforcement authorities if necessary. This senseless assault was committed even after the USW leadership assured us that the strike would remain lawful and peaceful. NLMK hopes that the USW leadership will honor their word that the picketing will remain peaceful and will not threaten the safety of innocent citizens traveling through this busy thorofare.

Second, it is important to recognize that the USW leadership’s primary complaint during contract negotiations has been the transition of their healthcare coverage to a plan more suitable in today’s industrial environment. As everyone can certainly appreciate, change is difficult. However, in this instance, NLMK has offered substantial incentives to help all employees navigate through the transition period from their current healthcare coverage to a healthcare plan better suited for the future.

Statements made by the USW leadership that NLMK is “ending our healthcare” or “taking our health care away” cannot be further from the truth. The healthcare plan we have proposed is just another option an employee can choose between their current Preferred Provider Organization Plan (“PPO”) and a new High Deductible Health Plan (“HDHP”). It is absolutely false that NLMK is eliminating healthcare coverage for any of its employees and their families.

The only change we have sought to the current PPO plan is a small monthly increase in the amount the employee would be required to pay. The PPO today, which is considered to be a premier level plan, costs a family only $185.00 per month in premiums for basically 100% coverage of all medical cost plus a small office visit copay. The increases that we have proposed would still be well below the market averages for similar PPO plans with similar coverages. While the USW leadership has recognized that an increase in an employee’s premium is acceptable, the amount they offered to pay is less than what NLMK believes is warranted. All current employees would have the option to participate in this plan for the next four years.

The other healthcare plan offered is a High Deductible Health Plan, or HDHP, which is an extremely affordable plan and offers the employee the ability to control the spending of their healthcare dollars. The employee makes no premium payments in order to participate in this plan. The way this plan works is simple. Using a family as the example, NLMK has offered to contribute $2,350.00 into a healthcare savings account each year for the first three years of the new contract and $1,550.00 for the fourth year. This money can be spent on healthcare or saved to use to pay later medical bills since it is owned by the employee. The maximum yearly expense an employee will be responsible for is $2,150.00 a year for the first three years of the contract per family when you account for the NLMK contribution of $2,350.00 mentioned above. Thus, between receiving NLMK’s healthcare savings account contributions and not paying premiums, the employees will absolutely pay less for the healthcare for their families than they do today under their current plan. This new plan would have no premiums and no copays. We have made our employees’ healthcare coverage better over this 4-year contract period and not worse as the USW leadership contends. The employees would have the same coverage they have now but it would cost them less for the coverage.

Third, it is extremely important to set the record straight on the topic of extending healthcare coverage to the families of employees who have passed away. This subject been a rallying point of the Steelworkers and the contention of the USW leadership that NLMK has chosen to ignore a provision in our labor agreement to the detriment of widows and orphans is a blatant lie. It is a travesty and a shame for the USW leadership to use the unfortunate passing of a co-worker as a rallying cry during negotiations. The truth is that the family of a deceased employee retains their healthcare coverage offered through COBRA if they wish to continue to pay the premiums. This practice has been consistently applied for years.

Indeed, the USW leadership is acutely aware of this long-standing practice since another employee passed away last December and an issue was never raised. In fact, this issue was never raised during the five months of negotiations until July 3, which was the unfortunate passing date of the employee. So, short story is that the USW leadership clearly understood and recognized what had been a long-standing practice and was even reminded of it less than a year ago. Interestingly, the USW leadership now has admitted that they do not know of anyone who has been treated differently in the past and could not provide specific examples supporting their accusations.

What the USW leadership is concealing in their slanderous campaign against us is that we agreed to pay for the first 30 days of COBRA healthcare coverage for this employee’s surviving family, even though we were not obligated to do so either under our labor agreement or through our past practices. More important, the USW leadership has further concealed the fact that we have reached an agreement with them to treat future situations the same way. These details are omitted in what the USW leadership has communicated and can only be interpreted as their intention to twist the truth to make NLMK look bad in the eyes of the public and to our employees. Again, it is clear the USW leadership continues to engage in a campaign of lies and it is sad to see the memory of a deceased employee used to create drama instead of supporting the family.

Fourth, we are offering hourly wage increases each year of the contract starting at 2.5% for the first year and then 2% each following year through the end of the contract. The average wage per hour would rise to $28.80, which is a substantial increase roughly amounting to $22,000.00 in total compensation for our employees over the four years of the new contract.

Finally, the accusations made by the USW leadership that we have “committed a number of serious unfair labor practices” which left them no recourse but to walk away from their high paying jobs cannot be further from the truth. The data requested was provided, even though NLMK believes that it was not required to do so. As a matter of fact, the Bargaining Committee for the Steelworkers cannot even explain why they needed the data to continue to negotiate in the first place.

The accusation regarding the discontinuation of healthcare coverage for the families of our deceased employees is addressed earlier in this narrative.

The last remaining point upon which the USW leadership is justifying their decision to strike concerns the suspension of the grievance procedure when the labor contract expired. We have continued to accept grievances sent to us even without a labor contract and have opted to address the concerns raised with the USW leadership. Any implication made by the USW leadership that we are ignoring the concerns raised by our employees is another example of their continued efforts to deceive the public and our employees.

Lastly, the most recent public communication made by the USW leadership that we are interrogating employees about union activity has absolutely no basis in reality. We have no idea where this came from since it has never been mentioned prior to the initiation of the current slur campaign.

NLMK remains available to continue to bargain in good faith in order to reach a collective bargaining agreement. The fact that we do not agree with the proposals raised by the USW leadership does not mean that we have broken the law as they proclaim.

Related coverage:

Aug. 25 | Union Members Picket Round-the-Clock Outside NLMK
Aug. 21 | Steelworkers Notify NLMK of Strike Plans
June 26 | Labor Negotiations Between NLMK, Steelworkers Stall

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