Nippon Steel Ups Effort to Woo US Steel Workers, Politicians

(Bloomberg) -- Nippon Steel Corp. is stepping up efforts to win over US workers and politicians for its $14.1 billion takeover of United States Steel Corp. despite stiff opposition from union leaders and the Biden administration.

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Japan’s top steelmaker is sending Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President Takahiro Mori to Pittsburgh next week where he’ll meet with local staff and elected officials, said people briefed on the matter. It’s also dispatching technical teams to review US Steel mills as the firm assesses how it can boost investment and labor commitments to convince union leaders and authorities of the deal’s merits, the people said.

The Japanese company confirmed a US visit, but declined to comment on details. “We will continue to engage in dialogue with relevant stakeholders,” a spokesperson said.

Nippon Steel agreed to buy US Steel in December, but opposition from the United Steelworkers and President Joe Biden has left investors uncertain of the deal’s fate. Biden last month vowed to keep US Steel American-owned, in front of union workers ahead of November’s election.

While Nippon Steel would like to complete the deal before the election, it may have a better chance to garner support afterward given “the USW’s current political leverage will disappear,” Mori told analysts earlier this month. US Steel recently pushed back the expected time frame for completion to the second half of the year.

USW President David McCall has rebuffed efforts by Nippon Steel to continue discussions. The veteran union leader says the firm’s plans raise national defense concerns and its commitments are conditional to broader business plans that tend to change. Nippon Steel denies those assertions.

Options for sweetening Nippon Steel’s offer to unions include increasing a $1.4 billion investment pledge and providing greater guarantees around the labor agreement, said people familiar with the company’s thinking. Separately, Nippon Steel has hired banks to raise as much as $1.6 billion via bond sales and loans.

Meanwhile, US Steel, whose shareholders approved the transaction last month, has been holding meetings with employees to discuss Nippon’s investment plans and “correct any misperceptions,” the company said in a statement. On Friday, the USW accused the firms of misleading workers by alleging concerns over labor obligations had been laid to rest. “We will continue to fight to enforce our contracts and keep our communities and country safe,” the union wrote.

Another American steelmaker, Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., is hoping US authorities block Nippon Steel’s takeover. Cliffs Chief Executive Officer Lourenco Goncalves said he still wants to buy US Steel or some of its assets after losing a bidding war to the Japanese firm.

The Nippon bid for US Steel is up for review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. It’s also subject to a national security review despite Japan being a close ally.

--With assistance from Guillermo Molero and Shoko Oda.

(Adds Nippon Steel comment in paragraph 3)

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