Ryan Offers Support to Picketers at NLMK

FARRELL, Pa. — Mercer County may not be in 13th congressional district of Ohio, but U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan says his constituents make up some of the striking workers who have walked the picket line outside of NLMK Pennsylvania for the better part of a month.

Some 30% of the workforce at the plant at 15 Roemer Blvd. are Ohio residents, said Ryan, D-13 Ohio, and “many of them live in my congressional district.”

Members of United Steelworkers Local 1016-03 have been on strike since Aug. 22, citing unfair labor practices. The union asserts NLMK has consistently tried to push its workforce into an “undesirable high deductible health care plan that they do not trust and have historically rejected.”

“These guys haven’t had a raise in five years, and now the company’s really going after their health care,” Ryan said.

On his way to Washington, D.C., Ryan stopped by the picket line Monday afternoon to meet with the 30 workers on hand and to offer his support.

“I think a lot of times they feel like they’re on an island out here,” he said. “They’re not in Youngstown and they’re not in Pittsburgh. So they’re somewhere in between.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan talks with Local 1016-03 unit President James Wells and other members of the local outside the NLMK Pennsylvania plant in Farrell.

Abiding COVID-19 recommendations, Ryan wore a face mask and offered fist bumps to union members standing at each corner at the intersection of Roemer and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards. He spoke with several members, including James Wells, unit president for Local 1016-03.

“That makes everybody out here understand and see that somebody high up like that understands what we’re going through and agrees with us,” Wells said.

In an emailed response for comment, NLMK asserts it continues “to have a fair contract offer on the table that keeps NLMK at an excellent wage and benefit level.” The company stated Ryan hasn’t reached out to discuss the situation.

“Unfortunately, the congressman has only heard the union’s positions. The company has been very open to what has been proposed at the bargaining table,” the company stated.

Local 1016-03 represents more than 400 workers at the plant. The union’s bargaining team will meet Sept. 16 with NLMK and present another proposal “to hopefully try to get them to move a little bit and try to come up with an agreement between both sides,” Wells said. He’s confident with the proposal they’ll share on Wednesday, he added.

“We’re doing what the membership wants and what’s right for the membership and their families,” he said.

The local enjoys strong community support, the union leader says. On Saturday, members held a spaghetti dinner fundraiser that saw more than 65 gift baskets donated “between other unions in the area and the community and the surrounding areas” to distribute to the members.

“We just hope that they actually start sitting down and want to negotiate in good faith,” Wells said. “Let’s get this settled and done so everybody can get back to work and they can actually start making the money that could be out there.”

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Arthur Young, NLMK Pennsylvania overhead crane operator, and steel hauler Mark Hall.

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Electrician Ray Chason, combustion department employee Paul Meehan and pipefitter Gerry Hollobaugh.

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Electrician Dennis Prample and a co-worker sit on the picket line.

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U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan talks with NLMK millwright Terry Brandan.

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Since the strike began, the union has been actively working to help its members find new jobs in the area, Wells said. Thus far, more than 100 members have found jobs working security, retail, small manufacturing and machine shops, as well as other steel mills, he said.

Of those who have found work, about 30 won’t be coming back if and when an agreement is reached and the membership returns to NLMK, he said.

“More and more people are getting jobs every day,” he said.

Manufacturing jobs are among “the last good-paying jobs around [and] these are the kind of jobs we want to continue to try to support,” Ryan said.

“Nobody likes this. This is not good for anybody,” he said. “But the reality of it is, in this environment, I think the best thing we can do is try to keep these good paying jobs that we have here. It impacts the economy in eastern Ohio as well as here in Farrell.”

The congressman heads back to Washington D.C. after a recess to face an impasse between Democrats and Republicans on a new comprehensive relief bill.

On Sept. 10, the Senate Republicans’ stimulus plan – a whittled down version of the $1 trillion plan the party presented in July – was voted down 52-47 by Senate Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican.

“As the problem gets greater and more severe, as we move into the flu season, their response is diminishing,” Ryan said. “And I think that’s completely dereliction of duty, in my opinion.”

In an effort to compromise, Democrats reduced their own plan to just over $2 trillion, down from about $3.5 trillion initially, he said. And while he allows that the Democrats still want more than what the Republicans have offered, “at the same time, I keep asking the question, ‘Who are you going to pull out?’ ” he said.

The Democrats’ proposal includes money for unemployed workers as well as teachers in school districts and colleges, hazard pay for frontline essential workers and $900 billion in local government funding.

“We’ve got this crazy conversation about defunding the police,” he said. “If they don’t get this money, it’s going to be the cops and the fire and the teachers and the nurses who are going to end up getting laid off. So who do you want to pull out of this thing?”

Related coverage:

Sept. 10, 2020 | Steelworkers Offer to Meet with NLMK, Still at Odds on Health Care
Aug. 27, 2020 | NLMK Refutes Union, Accuses USW of ‘Campaign of Lies’
Aug. 25, 2020 | Union Members Picket Round-the-Clock Outside NLMK
Aug. 21, 2020 | Steelworkers Notify NLMK of Strike Plans
June 26, 2020 | Labor Negotiations Between NLMK, Steelworkers Stall

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.