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Shop Talk: LTV, USW heads to meet as talks founder

Sunday, April 29, 2001

By Jim McKay, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

LTV Corp. made no headway in its initial attempt to convince the United Steelworkers to grant $261 million worth of labor concessions as part of a bankruptcy reorganization plan.

The union, in a first round of discussions held last week in Pittsburgh, expressed no interest in the concession package proposed by the Cleveland company, calling it "massive and unwarranted." Local union presidents from LTV's plants left town Thursday, a day earlier than scheduled.

Discussions, however, did not break off completely. LTV Chairman William Bricker and Leo Gerard, the USW's new president, will meet this week, said David McCall, the union's Ohio district director and lead LTV negotiator.

While LTV has called the plan "an all-or-nothing deal" in a video to employees, Gerard has vowed not to sacrifice the living standards of his members "to fix a problem we did not create and acting alone cannot solve."

LTV no longer has steelmaking operations here but the talks are important to more than 12,000 retirees in Western Pennsylvania who face the prospect of losing pension and health-care benefits.

The discussions are also being watched closely by LTV's competitors. U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel, the top two domestic producers, say they would demand from the union whatever concessions might be granted to LTV.

That stance came as no surprise to union officials who recall turbulent negotiations of the 1980s when concessions given to LTV and other weak companies were demanded and received by competitors. U.S. Steel took a 184-day strike in 1986 and 1987, winning concessions worth nearly $2 an hour.

After an exchange of proposals, LTV told managers and supervisors in a memo that most items in the union's proposal were conditioned on a proposed package of government relief that included import controls, industry loans and a surcharge on steel to pay benefits or legacy costs for retirees.

"Government relief on imports or legacy costs will not arrive in time to save LTV Steel," the memo said. "It is important that LTV managers understand that the union's proposal does not begin to address either the need for immediate cash savings or longer-term changes needed to create a viable cost structure ..."

LTV, which filed for bankruptcy protection last December, is seeking savings in wages, benefits and pensions as part of an overall plan to cut $800 million a year from its businesses' costs. It says it must quickly demonstrate to lenders and creditors that it can stop financial losses.

The union told the company it is willing to discuss operating changes only if work force reductions are accomplished through attrition or early retirements and health care changes only if tied to government relief for the industry.

The union proposal seeks a larger role in decision-making at the company through stock ownership by active employees and retirees and the rights to name a third of the company's board of directors.

Help with small business regs

Are you a small business owner in Allegheny County frustrated by the tangle of laws and regulations administered by the U.S. Department of Labor? If so, help has arrived, and her name is Mary Arch.

Arch, a small business program specialist with the Labor Department, has opened a one-stop compliance assistance center in partnership with the Penn State Cooperative Extension at 400 North Lexington Ave.

She will field questions on such topics as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, minimum wage, wage and overtime rules, child labor restrictions and occupational safety and health regulations. Arch can be reached at (412) 473-2540 or through e-mail at

Laundry workers switch

A commercial laundry union with 9,000 members, including 500 in Western Pennsylvania, has switched affiliation from the Service Employees International Union to UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers.

The change in affiliations by the Laundry and Dry Cleaning International Union was encouraged by the SEIU leadership. With the affiliation, UNITE will represent 40,000 laundry industry employees.

Sam Begler, long-time president of Pittsburgh-based LDCIU Local 40, said his union will retain its AFL-CIO charter during a trial affiliation period of about 18 months.

"Our goal is to make the industry's historic combination of dangerous work conditions and low wages nothing more than a distant memory," Bruce Raynor, UNITE's secretary-treasurer, said.

Nurses feel like quitting

One in five working nurses plan to leave the profession in the next five years because of poor working conditions, according to a survey conducted by Peter Hart Research for the American Federation of Teachers.

Many of those who plan to leave say they would stay if conditions were better.

"The silver lining is that the nurses threatening to leave say they would consider staying if improvements are made, including better staffing levels, more flexible schedules and higher salaries," said Sandra Fellowman, president of the AFT and its Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Hart Research interviewed 700 direct-care nurses and 207 former direct-care nurses. Some 53 percent said the job has become too stressful and physically demanding.

Coal Act review

The Supreme Court has agreed to review the 1992 Coal Act, a federal law intended to ensure that tens of thousands of retired coal miners and their dependents continue to get health care benefits even if the companies they worked for went out of business. The Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act established a special benefit fund to be financed by employers or related businesses.

Other stuff ...

Contract talks between Pittsburgh Brewing Co. and the union representing its production workers are scheduled this weekend and tomorrow if necessary. The current two-year agreement expires at midnight tomorrow ... Customer service representatives at AT&T Broadband's South Hills location vote Tuesday on whether to join the Communications Workers of America. The union is currently bargaining for 140 technicians at the same site who became members in March through card-check recognition ... Some 230 employees of Wabtec Corp. in Greensburg and Wilmerding have ratified new three-year labor contracts. The company withheld details, saying only that the agreements included wage and benefit increases and productivity gains. Employees at both facilities are represented by the United Electrical Workers Local 610.

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