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Coordinated bargaining ends in steel industry.

Unified collective bargaining in the steel industry ended when the five remaining Coordinating Committee Steel Companies voted to disband and bargain individually with the United Steelworkers when their contracts expire in July 1986. In 1956, when the unified approach was initiated, 12 companies participated; since then the number has dwindled. This was particularly true in the last few years as the industry has been buffeted by increased competition from foreign producers, the growing number of lower cost domestic "mini-mills," and the increasing use of alternate materials. These conditions led some of the member companies to merge, sell operations, or to seek and obtain concessionary changes in the industry settlement pattern from the union in an effort to improve their competitive position.

J. Bruce Johnston, executive vice president of U.S. Steel Corp., who was chief bargainer for the five Coordinating Committee Steel Companies, cited several reasons for the breakup, including "sustained financial losses" by member companies, recent joint ventures between U.S. and foreign companies, and rising use of imported semifinished steel. He maintained that, "very clearly, the union has abandoned pattern bargaining" by granting "off-pattern settlements" at a large number of plants that placed U.S. Steel and the other four companies at a cost disadvantage. Reportedly, labor costs were $17 an hour or less at the companies that had obtained concessions from the union, compared with an average of more than $21 at other companies. Johnston indicated that the competitive conditions in the industry might lead to bargaining on a plant-by-plant basis, not just on a company-by-company basis.

Steelworkers President Lynn R. Williams disputed Johnston, saying, "there haven't been any number of concessions" that come "quickly to my mind." He said that the end to coordinated bargaining was "not necessarily a disaster for the union" and that the union would continue a coordinated approach to bargaining and resist pressures by the companies to "trade off cheap wages and cheap benefits against one another."

In addition to U.S. Steel, the other companies that participated in the coordinated bargaining were Armco Inc., Bethlehem Steel Corp., LTV Steel Co., and Inland Steel Corp. Together, they employ 136,000 members of the Steelworkers union. However, the end of the bargaining approach has wider implications because a number of smaller companies had traditionally followed the settlement lead of the major companies.
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Author:Ruben, George
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Jul 1, 1985
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