Forced Overtime and Long Hours, Not Bloated Wages, Drive Annual Earnings Numbers at ATI

Thomas M. Conway

Thomas M. Conway International Vice President (Administration), United Steelworkers

Last week, ATI locked out the experienced and dedicated workforce that has served them faithfully over many years and brought this company to the position that they were able to build and finance their new hot strip mill.

ATI management likes to say they financed this project on their own without going into debt, but they fail to mention the unionized workforce’s role in the restructuring of their workplaces in order to bring the mill to fruition. They also fail to mention the reduction of the workforce affected by this project and the fact that when the project was announced, there were approximately 950 employees at their Brackenridge operation while today it stands at about 575.

The company further fails to mention the help, inducements, incentives, relief and grants they received from many levels of government to accomplish the project. In the course of trying to explain the foolishness of this lock out action, ATI through its mouth piece Bob Wetherbee and PR consultants continue to resort to “spinning” and intentionally misleading statements regarding the pay levels of the workforce and other issues involved in this bargaining.

ATI management has wasted millions on a public relations campaign they have waged both inside the plants with our members and outside the plants within our communities over the past months. The biggest twist of the truth they publish is an “annual average earnings” of ATI employees of $94,000 per year.

This is a slight-of-hand characterization, and ATI knows it. What they fail to mention is that they have so dramatically understaffed the operations that workers are forced to work 350-400 hours of overtime per year. They fail to mention that employees often work 12 and 16 hour days for days on end without time off, breaks to spend time with their families or deal with the everyday issues that every person faces.

ATI would have the public believe that this level of earnings comes through its graciousness. Nothing is further from the truth. It’s earned through the exhausting hours, days and nights spent around the clock in those plants, running and maintaining the mills and missing out on time spent away from families and important engagements. They also fail to mention that a significant portion of that “average earnings level” is derived through a variable incentive bonus system that only pays when quality steels are made and shipped on time. When shipments are down and the mills aren’t scheduled and at periods when the market is soft and schedules are reduced, incentive payments are also down and those employment costs, including both overtime and variable incentive pays, are reduced or nonexistent.

If the required overtime worked and related incentive payments aren’t added to these figures, the annual earnings is cut to about $60,000. That’s a far cry from the company’s claim of $94,000. The difference comes from the overtime and endless hours spent running the factories and mills. There is something to the old adage that “liars figure and figures lie”.

Tom Conway was appointed International Vice President (Administration) effective March 1, 2005, and was elected by acclamation to a full term in office later that year and again in 2009.

Conway became an activist in Local 6787 of the United Steelworkers union soon after he hired in at the Burns Harbor Works of Bethlehem Steel in 1978. While working as a millwright in the coke plant, he served as a griever for plant-wide maintenance and was a member of the safety and contracting-out committees. He was appointed as a USW staff representative in 1987 and assigned to Indiana's former District 31 office.

He has spent much of his USW career focusing on the steel industry in the U.S. and has been involved in most of the major collective bargaining efforts within that industry.