By Steve James
(Reuters) - Steelworkers threatened to protest outside all ArcelorMittal plants in the United States on Wednesday, accusing the steelmaker of dragging its feet in talks over a new labor contract.
Tony Montana, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers union (USW) said the "corporate-wide mobilizations" would include "practice" and informational pickets, rallies and other solidarity actions.
The company, the world's largest steelmaker, took precautionary measures at its plants last week in case of a strike. The union said it has not taken the strike option off the table.
Montana said negotiations were continuing with the Europe-based steelmaker, even after the union separately reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with U.S. Steel Corp on Sunday.
The USW's previous contracts with U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal had both expired at midnight on Saturday.
"With U.S. Steel reaching a tentative agreement over the weekend, why does ArcelorMittal continue to drag its feet?" David McCall, chairman of the USW negotiating committee, said in a letter to about 10,000 USW members at the company's plants in Indiana, Ohio and other U.S. states.
William Steers, a spokesman for ArcelorMittal USA in Chicago, did not comment on the USW action.
"Negotiations continue between ArcelorMittal and the United Steelworkers. We remain optimistic about reaching a fair and equitable contract with the USW,' he said in an e-mail to Reuters in New York.
The possibility of a work stoppage comes at a difficult time for the steel industry, which is suffering from weak demand and low prices. U.S. steelmakers have cut capacity to manage supply, but demand has still not returned to pre-recession levels.
Last month, ArcelorMittal said tough market conditions would continue into the second half of the year, particularly in Europe, where it lowered its consumption forecast due to the severity of the slowdown.
The union said the main sticking points in the contract talks were over funding for retiree health-care premiums and for pension benefits.
ArcelorMittal stock was down 1.8 percent at $14.37 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
(Reporting By Steve James; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)