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Unions at Gerdau recommit to global struggle for workers’ rights

This was the decision of the Gerdau workers’ world council, which brings together unions representing Gerdau workers across the Americas, at its recent meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Gerdau, the largest steel company headquartered in the Americas, is reducing employment levels through digitialization and pursuing debt reduction through stripping workers’ benefits.

IndustriALL affiliate UOM reported that Gerdau recently built a new, technologically updated plant in Argentina that produces nearly the same amount of steel with half the workers of the old Gerdau plant.

United Steelworkers said that Gerdau has reduced its number of plants in North America from 24 to 12 while still servicing the same customers.

“Our new plant manager wants to get rid of coffee and water in the break rooms to cut costs,” said SITRAGMETAL President Ariel Acevedo, who represents workers at Gerdau in the Dominican Republic. “We hear war drums, and we will not allow Gerdau to rip away our benefits.”

Unions from Dominican Republic, Canada and Brazil reported that Gerdau misrepresents its health and safety performance. Employees injured on the job must still report to work so that Gerdau can avoid reporting lost-time injuries.

Gerdau workers’ world council coordinator and CNM-CUT general secretary Loricardo de Oliveira reported progress in discussions with Gerdau to achieve a national agreement in which Gerdau commits to respect workers’ rights and uphold high health and safety standards in Brazil.

Said Oliveira: “This national agreement, which would also include the Brazilian Steel Institute, would be the first of its kind in the metal sector in Brazil. We hope it will also open space for dialog with the company about international workers’ concerns.”

Loricardo thanked Jorge Garcia-Orgales of United Steelworkers for his many years of service as the Gerdau workers’ world council coordinator. Garcia-Orgales is retiring from USW in 2018.

Unions in the council committed to numerous actions to respond to current challenges. These include educating Gerdau workers about Industry 4.0; involving more women and youth in their unions and in the Gerdau workers’ world council; more frequent communication among unions in the council through regular conference calls and online platforms; a coordinated effort to improve health and safety standards across the company’s operations; and rapid solidarity responses when Gerdau abuses workers or provokes conflict in bargaining.

“Workers at Gerdau are confronting numerous challenges, including the company’s anti-union practices in many countries,” said IndustriALL base metals director Adam Lee. “IndustriALL applauds Brazilian unions for achieving progress toward a national agreement with Gerdau. The Gerdau workers’ world wouncil will work to build on that progress to ensure Gerdau respects workers’ fundamental rights around the globe.”

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