FARRELL – A little more than three months into a strike that has idled more than 400 workers at the NLMK Pennsylvania mill, management has extended a new offer to employees.
The company sent a new offer by email to leaders and negotiators for United Steelworkers Local 1016-03, which represents more than 400 production workers at NLMK’s Farrell plant. NLMK also sent the offer individually to members.
Bob Miller, NLMK’s president, said the offer was emailed to union leaders on Monday and was sent by U.S. Postal Service to union members on Wednesday. The company, he said, sent the offer to the entire union membership because union leaders were not available to negotiate from Nov. 13 to Dec. 11.
Attempts by The Herald to contact USW leadership were unsuccessful.
“We mailed all of the bargaining unit employees ... in order to make sure they knew the exact details of the offer being made,’’ Miller said on Thursday. “NLMK didn’t want to wait almost a full month for continued bargaining.’’
Union members struck the company on Aug. 22 and there has been little progress in negotiations since, with the two sides separated over wages and healthcare insurance provisions. Union leaders have said contract provisions offered by the company would leave its members financially in the hole from higher healthcare costs.
Although the company didn’t provide financial figures in its new offer, management said in a Wednesday news release that the proposed contract addresses concerns from union leaders.
“An incentive system has now been included in the offer that will enable the employees to get the higher wage rate they have been seeking,’’ the company said in a release.
Proposed incentives would be based on tonnage of steel shipped, NLMK said in its statement.
Past offers by the company included multiple healthcare insurance choices for each union member that included a high-deductible plan. Union leaders have said those offers would cause members to pay large out-of-pocket costs.
“Additionally, we have made changes to the high-deductible healthcare plan in that the company is now addressing concerns in the first year of the program there may be out of pocket costs,’’ the release said.
Miller further explained the offer.
“Under the new offer, NLMK moved future contributions to the beginning of year one or year two corresponding with the workers deciding to participate in the high deductible health plan,’’ Miller said. “It front loads the HSA (a worker’s health savings account) with enough contribution that all of their health care costs will be covered for that year. It’s a way of having them fully covered their first year in the high deductible health plan, and is in direct response to a big complaint that our employees cannot afford the HDHP which is a total fabrication.’’
He said this change is cost neutral for the company, meaning it wont increase or decrease its costs. Miller repeated as in the past that every employee in HDHP plan will pay at least $4,600 less in health care costs over the proposed contract’s four years than the union’s proposal which increases costs.
Under the new proposal, NLMK said it would boost its healthcare contributions in the high-deductible healthcare plan, which would cover all of their potential healthcare costs in the contract’s first year, a practice known as front-loading. Union workers have the option of choosing the second year – but not both.
Also, NLMK said in the release that it would improve the process for workers to take personal days. The company added it’s ready to negotiate with the USW before Dec. 11.
Non-union employees have been operating the Farrell mill, and the plant is meeting customers’ demands, the release said.
“The company is also prepared to support the customers for the duration of the strike no matter how long it lasts,’’ NLMK management said in the statement.