Union workers at the bankrupt Weirton Steel Corporation in Weirton, W.Va., voted 2,104-231 in favor of accepting a labor contract offered by the mill’s prospective buyer, ISG, according to a report from Associated Press.

The five-year agreement offers no relief for the 10,000 retirees whose health care and pension benefits have been stripped by the bankruptcy. But the workers accepted the pact to ensure the survival of steelmaking in the region, said Independent Steelworkers Union President Mark Glyptis.

If the acquisition of Weirton Steel goes through, ISG will become the nation’s largest steel producer, surpassing U.S. Steel. Under the new contract, the number of job categories would shrink from 32 to five, and compensation would be closely tied to increased productivity. The current hourly wage is about $19. The contract also provides vacation, sick leave, health coverage and a 401(k) plan, but no defined payment pension plan.

The agreement is modeled after contracts that ISG has signed with the United Steelworkers of America at its other mills.

One rank-and-file activist told the World it is a good sign for steelworkers everywhere that the workers at Weirton have approved their contract with ISG pending the sale. The consolidation of steel companies has resulted in bringing the Independent Steelworkers Union closer to the USWA, which represents almost all the other union steel plants, he said.

As ISG, U.S. Steel and Nucor attempt to be the Big Three in steel, the union gains more strength, said the activist, who also works at an ISG facility. “It will be a matter of time before that small union either merges with the USWA or works so close it will be just like a merger. The workers at Weirton have been getting squeezed one way or another for a long time and this move has the potential of giving them more strength in the next negotiations,” he concluded.

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