August 12, 1997: Wheeling-Pitt Strike Ends After 10 Months

Joseph Vitiello, a resident of Moundsville, W.Va., and an employee for the Martins Ferry, Ohio Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plant, has nothing to smile about as he stands on the picket line with other union members outside the plant Thursday evening, Oct. 10

On August 12, 1997, the contentious Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel strike came to an end. The United Steelworkers of America’s 10-month work stoppage was the nation’s longest steel manufacturing strike on record, putting 4,500 workers out of work in eight plants in three states, including West Virginia.

The main goal of the strike was to increase workers’ pension benefits, which had been reduced after new owners led the struggling company out of bankruptcy in 1989. By 1994, Wheeling-Pitt had regained its place among industry leaders, and the workers wanted their pension benefits restored.

The negotiations were complex and bitter. Both sides were unyielding. In March 1996, Senator Jay Rockefeller convened a meeting in Washington, but little progress was made. Another meeting was set in Pittsburgh, but the company refused the union’s offer and walked out. Finally, in August, a contract was ratified.

The West Virginia AFL-CIO claimed victory because the new contract increased pension benefits and allowed for early retirements. In return, the company was allowed to reduce its workforce by nearly 20 percent.

After several more ownership changes, Wheeling-Pitt shut down for good in 2012.