• Labor still alive in NWI, but does it have power?

    It’s been a tough few years for unions in Northwest Indiana, between the state’s 2012 right-to-work law and other legislative blows, and the industrial sectors crucial to this area being, shall we say, less than fruitful lately. Now, it seems like 2015 could be shaping up to be a moment of truth for organized labor in the area, and how much power it still has here.

    Despite anti-union legislation, union membership has remained steady, even slightly increasing since 2012. And earlier this year, the refinery strike made it known that unionized workers were willing to take action.

    The refinery workers got what they wanted from BP (mainly new safety measures) after a few months. Although some hearsay seemed to question the need to strike in the negotiations, it’s still a victory for the union.

    But the next big labor battle, steel mills, looks a lot more uphill.

    ArcelorMittal has proposed cuts to workers’ health insurance benefits during recent negotiations. Steelworkers are understandably not thrilled at the proposal.

    I generally side with workers, but I’m not too optimistic in this case. ArcelorMittal’s Indiana facilities have apparently lost hundreds of millions each year over the last half-decade, and there’s even been talks of closing some of them (which the company denied, but the idea still hangs over this whole situation). That financial reality seems to put them in a stronger place at the negotiating table.

    I don’t foresee the end of unions in the Region once and for all should labor lose this fight. But even if they come out of this as winners, it could be a short-term victory. They may get a contract for another few years out of ArcelorMittal, but no union has the clout to take on the reality of the steel market and the forces of globalization.