WASHINGTON -- Putting an end to striker-replacement practices heads the agenda of hundreds of Steelworkers here this week for their annual legislative conference.
Replacing of striking employees by management has become "the most effective union-breaking device" to emerge from the 1980s, when President Reagan demonstrated the practice by firing striking air traffic controllers, said Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich.
"It won't be very long before you'll be afraid to face a strike," Ford told members of the United Steelworkers of America. "There's no way to fight back. No matter how long you are on strike, it won't affect the employer at all."
Steelworkers lobbied their congressional representatives yesterday to back bills that would ban using permanent replacements or give preferential treatment to workers who cross the picket line to go back to their jobs.
The House bill, sponsored by Rep. William L. Clay, D-Mo., has been approved by several committees and is expected to go before the full House for action by mid-July. The Senate measure, sponsored by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, passed committee last week.
Opponents of the measures, including most representatives of business organizations, say they will encourage more strikes and labor disputes, lead to substantial wage increases and hurt the already-disadvantaged American steel industry in the international market.
Other legislative priorities for Steelworkers this year include:
*Health care. The union is pushing for insurance reform that will give workers access to affordable, quality health care. USWA wants a system that would merge Medicare and Medicaid into one public plan, mandate comprehensivebenefits for all plans, require all employers to provide health insurance to their workers or buy into the public plan and set uniform rates for all premium payers.
*Family and medical leave. Steelworkers support proposals that would require employers to provide as many as three months of unpaid family leave each year for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious illness of a child, parent or spouse. The measures also call for the same period of medical leave if the employee has a serious health condition.
*Occupational safety and health. The union wants the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to be given more enforcement power and wants the right to refuse working in hazardous sites.
*Civil rights. Steelworkers say they will urge senators to follow the lead of the House, which has passed a bill intended to make it easier for women and minorities to sue their employer in job discrimination cases.