Union Members Picket Round-the-Clock Outside NLMK

FARRELL, Pa. — Since Saturday afternoon, members of United Steelworkers Local 1016-03 have been picketing outside of NLMK Pennsylvania on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., alleging unfair labor practices.

A “good portion” of the local’s 415 members have stood on the picket line 24/7 over the last few days, says Dave Maunz, a strike captain for United Steelworkers Local 1016-03.

“We’ve probably had, I would say about 100, 150 to 200 people here between two shifts so far today [Monday],” he says. “It’s been pretty good.”

The community has been supportive of the union members thus far, Maunz says. “They really know what we’re fighting here for,” he says.

That support includes more than 50 businesses in the area that have put up signs supporting the union, adds Jim Wells, president of Local 1016-03.

“Over half of them have called us asking for signs,” he says. “So we’ve got a lot of community support.”

On Aug. 20, the local announced it gave NLMK 48-hour notice of its intent to strike. According to a union statement, the company has consistently tried to push its workforce into an “undesirable high deductible healthcare plan that they do not trust and have historically rejected.”

Wells declined to elaborate on specific numbers regarding the health care plan, but 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.

The last time the membership voted down the deal was the largest turnout for a membership vote in the 20 years Wells has been with Local 1016-03, he says.

Deana Hendrickson joins her husband, Robert, an electrician at NLMK.

“The membership is telling me they don’t want it, they don’t trust it, they just don’t like it,” he says. “As long as the membership wants to tell me that, then that’s exactly what we’re following through with.”

A sticking point to the membership’s refusal to accept the contract is that NLMK hasn’t explained why it isn’t staying with the previously agreed to health care plan, he asserts, adding that an agreement the membership offered would have saved the company $250,000 in the first year.

“They turned it down flat out,” he says.

The local has requested information on how much the money the proposed plan would save the company versus how much it would cost the workers, Wells says, but NLMK hasn’t provided an answer.

“It’s kind of hard to bargain and understand things when they won’t tell you the information that you need to bargain fairly with them,” he says.

Members also asked if the federal tariffs on steel or other issues have prompted the company to change the plan in order to save money, he adds.

“Their answer is ‘no,’ ” he says. “They just plain and simple, this is what they want. And that’s just not an answer that sits well with any of the membership.”

The strike follows months of negotiations, which reached a stalemate in June after the local rejected the company’s most recent offer. At the time, Wells asserted under the plan, members believed their costs would increase to the point of not being able to afford medical care, and that their take-home pay would be diminished.

The local asserts NLMK is also breaking the law by not providing “the information we need” about the health care plan to bargain on an informed basis, Wells adds. Thus, the union has filed labor board charges with the union’s International, stating that the company is refusing to process grievances.

“We’re working under the current contract,” he says. “And they refuse to answer grievances.

“We had an individual that passed away,” he adds. “The next day, they cut their family’s insurance off, which is not a standard practice that we’ve had in this mill for a long period of time.”

As of 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, calls placed to NLMK had not been returned.

Monday morning, the Sharon Herald reported that one of its photographers had been “roughed up” by two picketers who rushed the photographer while he was taking a picture with his phone and threw him to the street. The Herald reported it had filed an incident report with Farrell police, but does not plan to press charges.

“We understand emotions can run high on a picket line,” the Herald’s editor, Jeffrey Gerritt, said Sunday evening. “But if anything like this happens again, we will press charges and do whatever else is necessary to protect our employees.

Wells says the local is internally investigating the incident.

“We are investigating that situation,” he says. “We do not condone any kind of violence out here on the line; putting your hands on anybody or anything like that.”

Pictured at top: Some 20-plus members of the United Steelworkers Local 1016-03 picketed outside of NLMK Monday afternoon.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.