Locked out ATI Flat-Rolled Division workers and family members yell at a tractor-trailer truck driver leaving ATI’s Vandergrift plant during a family picket at the entrance to the plant on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015.
By Tom Yerace
Trib Total Media
Nov. 5, 2015 – Anyone going in or out of the ATI steel plant in Vandergrift on Wednesday evening drove through a wall of emotion.
The union workers, whom the company has locked out of their jobs since Aug. 15, were in greater numbers than usual.
That’s because the Wives of Steel, a group of steelworkers’ wives, called a rally at the plant entrance that started at 4:30 and continued for at least two hours.
About 200 steelworkers and their families, most carrying signs demanding a fair contract from ATI, stayed on the move as they picketed. They walked back and forth — slowly — pausing on the driveway when vehicles approached the plant entrance, forcing them to slow down.
At the same time, they hurled verbal abuse and vented their anger, particularly at the vans carrying the people who have taken their jobs. The most frequent insult heard was the ultimate for union members — “scab.”
Yelling into a bullhorn, a steelworker shouted at a truck driver, “Hey dude, you’re a scab! You’re a piece of garbage!”
“Do you think they get the idea that we don’t like what they’re doing?” asked Russ Gainor of West Leechburg, who attended the picket line, even though he retired from ATI in June after 36 years rather than risk the lockout.
A thick white line freshly painted across the edge of the driveway served as the plant’s boundary from the public sidewalk.
As the steelworkers rallied on one side of the stripe, ATI security guards in khaki uniforms and ball caps videotaped the proceedings from inside the plant property.
ATI spokesman Dan Greenfield said the company had no reaction or comment on the rally.
When asked if there was any news about contract negotiations resuming, Greenfield said, “We’ve had contact with the mediator about trying to get talks going again, but so far it hasn’t been successful.”
Regina Stinson of New Kensington, who heads the five-member Wives of Steel at United Steelworkers Local 1138 in Leechburg, said the large turnout is an indicator of the stress the steelworkers and their families are dealing with.
The lockout enters its 83rd day Thursday. While some of the locked-out workers have found temporary work, many are receiving only unemployment compensation, which is a fraction of what they normally earn.
Also, they are facing termination of their company health insurance plan on Nov. 30.
“I’ve got a lot of moms calling, and they’re stressed out because they’re worried about having Christmas for their kids,” Stinson said. “That’s something they haven’t had to deal with for a long time.”
She said the Wives have put together a resource center on Facebook to help families and are planning fundraisers to help with the holidays.
Watching the angry steelworkers crowd around a vehicle shouting at the driver and holding signs up to the windows, Stinson acknowledged that the level of emotion has increased and will get only worse the longer the lockout lingers. She said the workers need to vent their frustration.
“That’s part of why I do the rallies, to let them get it out,” said Stinson, whose husband Terry has 19 years with ATI and works at Vandergrift.
She said the replacement workers sometimes fuel the anger more. “They’ll put their paychecks right up in your face,” she said. “This is mild compared to what it could be.”
Kelly Loy, 45, of Lower Burrell, like the Stinsons, moved here six years ago to keep working at ATI after it shuttered its New Castle, Ind., plant.
“I’ve got the same concerns that we all have,” he said. “We’re out of a job, and we don’t know when it’s going to end.
“It’s about finances for (ATI),” Loy said, “but it’s more about them trying to reduce the power of the union.”
“We’re doing OK, all things considered,” said Cory Grantz of Elderton, a Local 1138 officer. “This is corporate greed at its finest, but we’re sticking together.”
Referring to the waves of emotion around him, Grantz said, “If I was stealing your job, wouldn’t you be upset?”“We’re fighting for our jobs,” he said. “We’re fighting to preserve the middle class.”
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.