A 10-month walkout by steelworkers at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, beginning October 1, 1996, was the longest steel manufacturing strike on record when it concluded nearly a year later. The strike by members of the United Steelworkers of America put 4,500 workers out of work in eight plants in three states. The workers struck mainly to improve their pension benefits, which had been revised when new owners led the ailing company out of bankruptcy after 1989. By 1994, Wheeling-Pitt had been restored to a place among industry leaders, and the workers sought a readjustment of pension benefits on terms more beneficial to themselves.
The negotiations were complex and bitter. Both sides were unyielding. Seventy-eight days into the strike, negotiators for the company and the union were ordered to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office in Pittsburgh, but the deadlock continued. The union with help from the AFL-CIO went after major stockholders of Wheeling-Pitt’s parent, WHX Corporation of New York. In March, Sen. Jay Rockefeller convened a meeting in Washington, but again little progress was made. Another meeting was set in Pittsburgh, but the company walked out, refusing the union’s offer. Finally, in August, a labor contract was ratified.
James Bowen, chief negotiator for the union and later president of the state AFL-CIO, claimed victory in the settlement, which gave workers $40 per month in pension benefits for each year of service, increasing to $44 per month on June 1, 2003. It also allowed retirement at age 55 with 30 years of service. The company achieved 850 job reductions, approximately 19 percent of the work force, mainly through attrition. The strike ended August 12, 1997, when 79 percent of the workers approved the contract.
This Article was written by Jane Kraina
Last Revised on November 19, 2010
Baker, Stephen. 'Why this Steel Chief has Such an Iron Will. Business Week, 5/19/1997.
Bernstein, Aaron. 'Working Capital': Labor's New Weapon. Business Week, 9/29/1997.
Greenwald, John & David Jackson. A Nearly Silent Steel Strike. Time, 7/21/1997.