Wheeling Gives Its 'Final' Offer to Steel Union

October 15, 1985|Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel delivered on Monday what was described as its final offer for settling an 86-day-old walkout by the United Steelworkers that has pushed the company closer to liquidation.

Paul D. Rusen, chief negotiator for the 8,200 striking union members, met with his 30-member bargaining committee late in the day to deliver the company's offer.

Rusen said he expected several hours of discussions behind closed doors before details of the offer might be released.

If accepted by the committee, the company's offer would be submitted to the plant workers in a secret ballot vote by mail. The referendum could take 10 days to conduct.

The offer was produced Sunday in discussions involving Rusen and his closest aides and company Chairman Allen E. Paulson and Vice Chairman George A. Ferris.

"It's been made quite clear to me that it's their best and final offer," Rusen said.

With Wheeling-Pittsburgh's lenders saying that they might force a liquidation to settle debts of about $530 million, the contract negotiations were centering on what level of labor cost cuts were needed to enable the company to successfully reorganize under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

During the weekend, the company reportedly was offering $17.70 per hour in labor costs--wages, benefits, unemployment compensation taxes and other expenses. The union had wanted a figure of $19.45 per hour.

The union's last contract, rejected by the company with court authorization, cost the company $21.40 per hour in labor costs, including wages of about $12 per hour.

Negotiators for the union said privately that they were prepared to have the company's pension plans terminated and a reduced level of benefits paid by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. But they had hoped to preserve as many jobs as possible and coax as much out of the company as possible in supplemental pension benefits.

The strike began July 21, the day that former Chairman Dennis Carney said he would unilaterally cut labor costs by 18% to $17.50 per hour.

Paulson, the steelmaker's largest shareholder, took over from Carney last month, reinstated non-economic contract language and opened the company's books to union consultants in order to improve relations and break a bargaining impasse.

Wheeling-Pittsburgh, which was the nation's seventh-largest steel producer before the shutdown, began negotiating with Rusen's committee in late 1984 for another round of cost-saving contract concessions.

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