Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Local 6787, ArcelorMittal resolve safety concern without arbitration

Back To Front Page

By KEVIN NEVERS

United Steelworkers idled this week, after 10 members of Local 6787 walked off the job over safety concerns at the Nos. 1 and 2 continuous castors, were back at work today, after Local 6787 President Paul Gipson brokered an agreement with ArcelorMittal which puts those concerns to rest.

Members sent home without pay by the company will be paid the earnings they’d lost, Gipson said. Meanwhile, an arbitration session scheduled for today has been canceled.

“The question in dispute,” as Gipson put it today: whether automation controls recently installed at the castors jeopardized members’ safety by reducing the number of steelworkers who customarily man the castors.

In particular, Gipson said, there was no mechanism for replacing a steelworkerÑeither one of the two strand techs or the castor operator in the control pulpitÑwho needed to leave his post, to go on break or use the restroom or for any other reason.

“A member leaving his station would put too many people in harm’s way,” Gipson said.

ArcelorMittal, for its part, held that the automation controls “actually remove people from danger,” Gipson added. “But we all know that when it’s a case of something man-made, Murphy’s Law can creep in.”

From where he was sitting, Gipson explained, the impasse really appeared to be a matter not for arbitration but negotiation. “My job as administrator of the union is to bring both sides to the table. I did that on Thursday.”

And what the steelmaking managers realized is that “these are senior operating techs with years and years of experience. And these guys were scared for their lives. They’ve come to work thousands of times without something happening but it’s the one time you don’t have that extra pair of eyes and the computer has a glitch when you have a disaster.”

Local 6787 and ArcelorMittal finally hit on this solution: in the event either a strand tech or the pulpit operator is forced to leave his station, another steelworker will temporarily man that post. “There will always be somebody to take that job temporarily,” as Gipson summarized the agreement.

More: “All people who lost their wages for the last three days will be repaid,” Gipson said. “If you believe these people were scared, were fearing for their lives, you should pay them. If you care about safety, you should pay them.”

“I don’t like to bring an arbitrator in,” Gipson noted. “We should be able to resolve our differences without doing that. This is kind of an historic agreement. For years, arbitration was the way you resolved safety differences. And the arbitrator is going to make a decision based on one question: is this a change in the contract? And you run the risk of his not seeing the change. We’re not being responsible to one another when we bring in somebody from the outside.”

Gipson did say that the dispute should never in the first place risen to this level. “What brought us to this place was a lack of communication. The company should have talked to us about the automated controls well in advance of their implementation, months ago.”

Gipson also took a moment to thank the following steelworkers for their leadership and taking action “as the situation required”: Carl Drzewiecki, Charlie Camp, Bill Reager, Mike Hilzley, Bill Crosslin, Sam Smith, Don Smith, Jim Ward, and Tom Burns. “This is a perfect example of the labor movement and who we are as steelworkers,” Gipson said. “Your integrity and dedication is evident when you speak up in an effort to make a better workplace for all of us.”

“We will always strive to resolve our differences by working together in the most constructive way,” Gipson added.

 

 

Posted 4/26/2013