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Oregon Steel, Pueblo union labor dispute continues


Pueblo's Rocky Mountain Steel Mills was fined $487,000 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last week for 1,078 violations of 107 workplace safety standards.

The facility is owned by Oregon Steel.

OSHA officials report the thousand-plus violations to be the highest number ever found in a single Colorado facility. The fine is also among the largest in Colorado history.

The ruling follows a 10-week inspection of the plant that came in the wake of two worker deaths in ten months, a double amputation of another, the severe scalding of another, and yet another incident where a worker's fingers were crushed.

Oregon Steel and the Pueblo mill have been racked by labor problems since union workers went on strike in October of 1997 and were replaced by non-union workers.

The ruling is the latest round of a bitter, three-year labor dispute that has been punctuated by court rulings.

Last May, administrative judge Albert Metz ruled Oregon Steel in violation of over 100 federal labor practices, and that the strike is a legitimate job action against unfair labor practices ("Pueblo Steelworkers Revel in Court Victory," June 8).

The union, however, has had negative court rulings as well. Last month, administrative judge Tomas Patton ruled that the local chapter of USWA had violated 80 labor laws, including illegal actions against strike-breaker workers.

The actions included throwing objects, picketing homes, recording license plate numbers, making threats and placing nails on the road to the mill.

Before the 1997 strike, the Pueblo mill accounted for 70 percent of Oregon Steel profits. Since then, the mill has lost $63 million, the work force has shrunk from 1,100 to 500, and Oregon Steel stock has plummeted from $28 to as low as $1.84 a share.

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