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Oregon Steel and Pueblo union slugging it out in court


An administrative law judge ruled that the local chapter of the United Steelworkers of America violated 80 "serious" labor laws.

The ruling is the latest round of the bitter labor dispute between the union and Oregon Steel, owner of Rocky Mountain Steel Mills in Pueblo.

Oregon Steel, which employed the union steelworkers until an October, 1997 strike, had petitioned the judge for "extraordinary remedies" that would have limited the number of union pickets and revoked the union's representational rights.

Judge Thomas Patton, however, issued only the traditional "cease and desist" order, responding to 17 specific actions that the striking workers had engaged in against non-union employees. Those actions included throwing objects, picketing homes, recording license plate numbers, making threats and placing nails on the road to the mill.

Oregon Steel attorney Rick Alaniz claims the judge's findings could result in several millions of dollars in damages to reimburse the company for physical damage and for the cost of extra security hired during the strike.

USWA attorney David Goldman said an appeal of the ruling is likely.

"These violations occurred early in the strike, mostly by anonymous, unidentified people," said Goldman. "The judge ruled, however, that it was our picket line, so we are responsible. Meanwhile, there hasn't been so much as an allegation of misconduct in the past year-and-a-half."

Judge Patton's decision comes in the wake of a May ruling by administrative judge Albert Metz that Oregon Steel violated over 100 federal labor laws and that the USWA strike is a legitimate job action against unfair labor practices ("Pueblo Steelworkers Revel in Court Victory," June 8).

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.

Plans to expand downtown's Business Improvement District from 10 to 70 square blocks suffered a setback when downtown business leaders failed to collect enough signatures of support from property and business owners in the proposed expansion area.

Proponents, led by a coalition of downtown business owners called Downtown Partnership, Inc., needed signatures of support from 51 percent of the commercial property owners in the proposed expansion area in order to get the proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot ("Business Leaders seek downtown expansion," July 13).

Businesses within the improvement district boundaries tax themselves 50 cents for every $100 of assessed value of their business and/or property to generate revenues for business-enhancement and beautification projects.

Joyce Stivers, president both of the Near North End Neighborhood Association and of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs, believes that "People in the expansion area aren't confident enough about what the money is going to be used for. They aren't convinced that it's going to benefit them."

However, Beth Spokas, executive director of Downtown Partnership, Inc., downplayed the setback, saying it's "no big deal, really. We've gotten some useful feedback form this process and we'll be working with an advisory committee to fine tune the budget services with the neighborhood people. It'll give us more time to get everyone on the same wavelength."

Spokas said the group hope to try again next year.

The current BID has an annual budget of $125,000, with boundaries running between Tejon and Nevada Ave. from Colorado Ave. to Boulder Street. The expanded BID would have had an annual budget of $428,000.

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