Progress reported in contract talks

FOLLANSBEE – Officials with Mountain State Carbon, LLC, say there’s been substantial progress made at the bargaining table, despite complaints to the contrary by union negotiators.

In a statement released Monday, Mountain State officials said they were “disappointed” with reports that the United Steelworkers union was unhappy that after 10 months at the table they still had no agreement.

“(Mountain State Carbon) and the USW have been bargaining for (about) 11 months in pursuit of an agreement for hourly employees,” the company said in its statement. “To date, (Mountain State Carbon) and the USW have mutually agreed to the bulk of the terms of the new agreement.”

The company said “important background information” had been overlooked, including:

When Mountain State Carbon became the employer of the current workforce on Sept. 1, 2012, “it voluntarily made offers of full-time employment to former RG Steel employees at competitive wage rates, incentive pay opportunities and health and welfare benefit packages.” The company did not reduce the base pay of any fulltime employees, they said.

The company voluntarily recognized the USW as bargaining agent for the hourly workforce and immediately began negotiations.

Since Sept. 1, “in each instance in which an hourly employment opportunity has become available, (Mountain State Carbon) has voluntarily chosen to hire hourly workers previously employed by RG Steel,” they said.

The company has not laid off any full-time employees since it became the employer on Sept. 1.

The two sides had met in person “at least 10 times in pursuit of an agreement, and the chief negotiators for (Mountain State Carbon) and the USW have spoken often on the phone in an attempt to reach a deal.”

The two sides “have mutually agreed to the bulk of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, and only two substantive items remain open,” the company said.

Standing in the way of an agreement: vacation entitlements and a guaranteed minimum for hours worked.

“Even though (the company) has already raised its initial vacation offer from one to two weeks – and members are already enjoying the benefits of this second week of vacation – the USW has insisted on a third week of vacation, the company said.

The USW also is insisting on a 24-hour-per-week guarantee, “even though full-time employees have not been scheduled for less than 40 hours in a week during the entire time” Mountain State Carbon has employed them.

“(Mountain State Carbon) did not break off the latest round of negotiations,” the company added. “(We were) prepared to work – around the clock if necessary – during the week of June 17 to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, in the midst of negotiations on June 18, the USW bargaining committee ended the talks, stating that they would let (us) know when the parties would resume bargaining.”

So far, they said the USW “has not reached out” to schedule further talks.

“In sum, (Mountain State Carbon) believes that these negotiations have been productive by any standard, and…remains open and receptive to further negotiations,” they said.