Steelworkers 'Rail' on Bid Award to Oregon Steel

Transit board's vote to accept steel from company draws wrath of union, which attacks firm's safety and environmental record.

The ongoing feud between the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and Oregon Steel Mills Inc. continued last week when the Sacramento (Calif.) Regional Transit District approved by a 4-3 vote a low bid to use rail produced by the Oregon Steel's Rocky Mountain Steel Mills (RMSM) subsidiary.

USWA, which recently has been at odds with Oregon Steel over two workers' deaths at an RMSM plant in Colorado, contends that the transit district's vote thwarted a labor-community effort to hold Oregon Steel responsible for its "dismal" record on worker and environmental safety. Three transit district board members who were outvoted followed the urging of environmental and union leaders that the company's "record of flagrantly violating health and safety, environmental and labor laws" disqualifies it as a "responsible bidder" under California law, voting to reject all bids and rebid the project.

Board member Rob Kerth contends that "the human costs involved are too much to ask." "By my math," Kerth said. "RMSM's fatality rate is 76 times greater than the industry standard."

RMSM officials claim that the Steelworkers' efforts in Sacramento show how the union will go to any length to try and discredit and destroy the reputation of the company. "The transit board's decision is a vindication of our product and helps restore our company's good name," RMSM spokeswoman Vicki Tagliafico said. "We are sorry that the board has had to undergo the political pressure of the Steelworkers' agenda."

Worries over the delay such a rebid could cause the long-awaited rail extension caused two other board members to vote to accept a bid using RMSM rail while expressing deep concern over the company's record, according to USWA.

The union points to several safety and health concerns against Oregon Steel and RMSM:

  • The company has continued to commit serious violations of OSHA standards despite having earlier received hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties, including the second largest OSHA fine in Colorado history. The agency recently began a comprehensive "wall-to-wall" inspection of RMSM's Pueblo, Colo., mill following the second workplace death there in less than 10 months.
  • It has been charged with having a long record of noncompliance with the Clean Air Act's emissions limits, despite having signed multiple compliance agreements with Colorado. The company's failure to comply with the law has led to a lawsuit by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

RMSM counters that, since 1993, it has spent more than $200 million to modernize its mills and provide safer working conditions; has spent more than $4 million on directly related safety improvements; has an extensive, proactive safety record; has committed more than $35 million to clean up environmental issues of the prior, bankrupt company; and has reduced chemical emissions to the environment by 80 percent.

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