Pay Raise Comes With Debt to '99 Strike

Your pay check this month will be fatter – by 3% -- thanks to union negotiators who brought back a contract in 2017 that over 52 months will add about $15,000 to your paycheck and bank account. But this guaranteed pay raise means a lot more, because it carries the scars and victories of past battles this union has come through. In particular, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1999 strike that John Kitchens (X18) calls “a turning point” in the yard and in the union.

He should know. Kitchens walked picket lines in the ’99 strike, and he remembers the hardships well. “Back then, we were getting contracts with bonuses but not real raises to our base pay. Sometimes, no pay increases or even concessions,” he said. “It was rough.”

Kitchens, who has been a Steelworker since 1982, said retirement pay was pathetic in 1999. “A guy with 44-45 years of service could end up getting a pension check of only $335 per month. Some folks couldn’t even afford burial insurance,” he said, shaking his head.

He said the ’99 strike tested the heart and solidarity of Local 8888. “But we came through it with a better contract that had pay rate increases, specialist rates, and the pension nearly doubled from $500 to $900.” Kitchens held up his pay stub and said, “We’ve come a long way:  still going.” He has served on the past two negotiations committees. And he wants newer members to appreciate their 3% raise, because it was “negotiated not given” by the company.

Local 8888 President Charles Spivey echoed the same message. “Frederick Douglas had it right when he said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ We won’t backslide when the company is prospering and shareholders are pleased with their take. We, too, have bills to pay, emergencies to manage, and dreams to chase.”

That’s what the 3% really means.