LORAIN — Local steelworkers gathered at the gates of the U.S. Steel mill on East 28th Street on Thursday in solidarity with the national union and the ongoing contract negotiations with the company.
“There’s a rally going on at every U.S. Steel plant exactly like this one,” United Steelworkers Local 1104 Recording Secretary John Gargasz said. “We just want a fair contract.”
Gargasz said the union’s contract with the company is set to expire at midnight Saturday and, in 2015, union members took sacrifices during negotiations because the whole industry was hurting.
That isn’t the case anymore.
“We went without raises and have seen medical cost increases,” he said. “It’s been three years and now the industry is solid. They’re making profits because of the tariffs and (President Donald Trump’s) tax breaks, and we just want what’s fair.”
Councilwoman Mary Springowski, D-at large, came out to support the workers because they “are what made Lorain what it is.”
“It was your sweat, it was your labor and it was sometimes your tears and blood that made this city a city,” she said. “And the guys who are running this company into the ground have got to realize that you are not the enemy. The Chinese and North Korea are the enemy. They have to stop taking it out of the workers’ pockets.
Sharon Sweda, a Democrat running against state Rep. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, for a place in the Ohio Senate, said her grandfather worked at the U.S. Steel mill back when there were three shifts and it was thriving.
“It was a time when people could have a good union job with good benefits and we kept the community alive and growing,” she said. “What’s happened at that steel mill has hurt all of us and it’s hurt all of you.”
The steel industry in Lorain has suffered in recent years with a manufacturing line in the U.S. Steel mill closing in 2017 and the idling of the Republic mill in 2016.
However, at the end of June, Republic announced in a news release the mill could be opened as soon as September with the 9-inch and 10-inch rolling mill, followed by the electric arc furnace as orders dictate.
In this first phase, Republic anticipates bringing back more than 80 employees to the mill over two months.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer said Republic has reached out to the city in regards to water and utilities, but a concrete start date for operations has not been communicated to the city.
Gargasz said if a U.S. Steel contract is not agreed upon by Saturday, there are several paths that could be taken.
“They could tell us to keep working,” he said. “They could also lock us out. Or USW International could call a strike.”
Gargasz also said the company could just extend the current contract but he doesn’t see that happening.