Members of the United Steelworkers have voted to give the union the authority to launch a nationwide strike against ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel producer, if ongoing contract negotiations fail.

The union has been negotiating with Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal since April over a new labor contract that would cover more than 14,000 workers and tens of thousands of retirees. The current contract expires Monday.

On Tuesday, the union distributed a notice to workers at 14 plants operated by ArcelorMittal saying there had been a “lack of progress” in the talks and asking for the authority to call a strike if the negotiations fail.

The union said Wednesday that workers voted to authorize a strike.

They include employees at facilities in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, Minnesota and West Virginia. Local 2911 in West Virginia represents 950 employees at the former Weirton Steel.

Netherlands-based Mittal Steel Co. bought Weirton Steel in 2004 before merging with Belgium’s Arcelor SA. Besides the union’s demands on health care and profit-sharing, Weirton workers want ArcelorMittal to reinvest in aging plant facilities to keep their tin mill competitive in the global economy.

ArcelorMittal said it remains committed to working with the union to reach a settlement before Monday.

The United Steelworkers have cited a tentative four-year deal reached earlier this month with United States Steel Corp. covering 16,000 workers at domestic flat-rolled and iron ore mining plants, and tubular operations in Ohio and Alabama.

The union told its members that ArcelorMittal’s “current position does not do justice to our needs and demands, and does not match the pattern set by the U.S. Steel agreement.”

Among the contentious issues are premiums for retiree health care, company contributions to a trust fund for health care, employee incentives, a profit sharing agreement and capital investments to improve aging facilities.

Bill Steers, an ArcelorMittal spokesman, said the talks continued with frequent meetings throughout the day in Pittsburgh.

“The company and union have reached tentative agreements on many of the outstanding issues, but continue negotiating on a handful of topics,” he said in an e-mail message.

Gary Chaison, a labor specialist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said the strike authorization vote may not mean a strike is imminent, “but it usually is a sign of impatience in bargaining.”

“A strike vote is putting a bullet in the chamber,” he said. “You don’t have to use it, but you can.”

Such votes are “a sign that negotiations have really reached a stage where intensity in bargaining is necessary, and you have to break from the past trend,” he said. It also makes management more flexible in the process, he said.

A nationwide strike against ArcelorMittal would be one of the largest steel industry strikes in years, Chaison said.

ArcelorMittal employs more than 320,000 people in more than 60 countries. That includes about 18,000 employees at 17 facilities in the United States.

The company produces a tenth of the world’s steel. It has said it plans to increase shipments by more than a fifth by 2012 due to robust global demand.

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