Wells Fargo & Co. has become embroiled in a dispute between striking workers and a Portland, Ore.-based steel company.

Workers protesting conditions at a Pueblo, Colo., mill owned by Oregon Steel Mills Inc. said last week that they were boycotting the bank for lending to their employer. In addition, an Oregon local of the union says a company that employs its members, Northwest Aluminum Co., plans to withdraw a $20 million pension account from Wells Fargo.

"We are focusing on Wells Fargo Bank, which, as a lead lender to Oregon Steel, is financing the company's war on its Pueblo workers," said George Becker, president of the United Steelworkers of Americat.

The union said it would demonstrate at Wells Fargo branches in 11 cities from Feb. 13 to Feb. 20.

The San Francisco bank said it became a target of the protest because it is co-agent with Bank of Nova Scotia of a $125 million revolving credit extended to Oregon Steel in June 1996. Seven other banks, including KeyBank, NationsBank, and PNC Bank, participated in the credit.

Wells Fargo also holds about 1.9 million shares of Oregon Steel in custodial accounts for its customers. The bank said it has no direct ownership of the stock.

Wells Fargo does not plan to end its relationship with Oregon Steel, said bank spokesman Tom M. Unger. "This is a dispute between Oregon Steel and the union members that has absolutely nothing to do with Wells Fargo. It would be against our business principles to deny service to one customer ... simply because another customer urges us to do so."

But John Duray, a spokesman for the steelworkers, disagreed. "Wells Fargo every day makes decisions about whom to lend money to," Mr. Duray said. "We are urging them to intervene any way they can to effect a settlement."

Steelworkers at the Pueblo mill went on strike Oct. 3, claiming repeated violations of labor laws and unwillingness on the part of Oregon Steel to negotiate a new agreement. Among other alleged abuses, mill managers threatened to fire workers for engaging in union activities, Mr. Duray said.

The United Steelworkers of America last year targeted Mellon Bank Corp. In June, 600 steelworkers demonstrated at Mellon's Pittsburgh headquarters, urging the bank to intervene in a strike against Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.

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