10/19/07

USW takes dues hit as Weirton factory shuts

Global steel giant ArcelorMittal formally informed local government officials as well as union leaders Wednesday that the Weirton hot strip mill will be closed in mid December. The hot strip mill is the facility that converts steel slabs into coils for additional treatment at the Weirton Tin Mill.

An ArcelorMittal news release said closure “will result in the loss of about 250 hourly and 15 salaried positions, leaving a workforce of just under 1,000 at ArcelorMittal Weirton.

Notification came in the form of a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act delivered Wednesday to city of Weirton officials, Mark Glyptis, president of the United Steelworkers Local 2911 and the state of West Virginia. “We received our letter today at about 3:10 p.m.,” said Glyptis, Wednesday, “but it really wasn’t unexpected. We were told about the corporate decision in August and have been working to avert this decision since then.”

“It is too early to publicly discuss our plans for our union members. We have been involved in a serious dialog with the company but we are not prepared to discuss our employees. We will protect our union constituents and we have contract language that provides job flexibility as well as job security,” Glyptis explained.

The news release from ArcelorMittal said “plant management and the union are working together to determine how to implement the closure and how the job eliminations will be effected. Existing contract language provides for compensation and benefits associated with job loss.”

“The potential shut down of the hot strip mill is very difficult to accept. We started rebuilding the hot mill in 1988 and literally rebuilt the facility with our blood and sweat and we created a world class operation that has been in the envy of other steel mills,” declared Glyptis.

“We have watched the shutdown of our Hot End, our Sheet Mill and now the hot strip mill and it is difficult for all of us. This steel mill is part of us because we have all worked in the various departments over the years,” Glyptis said.

But Glyptis admitted Wednesday the Weirton hot strip mill was a victim of its narrow width capabilities and a decision by ArcelorMittal “to rationalize its current hot mill production.”

“We have an excellent hot mill operation. But it is a narrow hot mill facility and we always knew that would have an effect on us. But the Weirton workers have a great deal of teancity. The workers have been through a tremendous amount of change. But we persevere,” Glyptis declared.

“We have watched our government adopt a global philosophy and rationalization of the industry. Fortunately Lakshmi Mittal has indicated his intentions to remain in the tinplate business and we believe that will ultimately mean a strong Tin Mill in Weirton,” Glyptis said.

The ArcelorMittal announcement detailing the shut down of the Weirton Hot Strip Mill triggered an angry reaction from U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V. who said he was very disappointed in the corporate decision.

“I am further dismayed to discover that ArcelorMittal’s most recent decision, announced today, will cost Weirton at least another 250 hourly and 15 salaried positions. This is yet another unfair blow to the steelworkers at Weirton ,” Byrd said.

“I deeply regret that the workers at ArcelorMittal’s facilities at Weirton continue to experience these difficulties. Frankly, I find it hard to fathom how the Mittal family, with all of its wealth, knowledge, and expertise, cannot invest sufficiently in Weirton to keep these people employed. ArcelorMittal’s announcement comes right before the Holidays. In fact, the company’s own statement highlights how the company plans to close Weirton ’s hot-strip mill in mid-December. Merry Christmas, Mr. Mittal!,” Byrd declared in a statement from his Washington D.C. office.

U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said the closure notice was “very sad news.”

“I must express my profound disappointment in the company’s decision, especially in light of the incredible efforts that have been made by so many people to make Mittal successful in Weirton. There has been good faith effort after good faith effort by the steelworkers of Weirton, including painful concessions, to put together a viable program for Mittal. This is a tragic disregard for those efforts. I am saddened by the company’s decision. I will continue to do all I can to back the steelworkers at Weirton who have already done so much to help make this nation strong,” Mollohan stated.

Meanwhile, Glyptis said ArcelorMittal has already started preparing to ship coils from other North American plants.

“We have been receiving rolled product from the Indiana Harbor and Cleveland plants and that will continue when the hot mill is closed,” Glyptis said.

“At the same time we will continue working with our USW leadership in Pittsburgh, corporate officials in Chicago and government leaders in Charleston and Washington D.C. to work on keeping our hot mill facility a part of the future of Weirton,” Glyptis declared.

Brian James, general manager of the ArcelorMittal Weirton plant said “the company is committed to making Weirton a world class tinplate producer. We’re confident that this action, combined with the ongoing efforts and the energy of the dedicated Weirton workforce, will put the plant on a track to achieve the profitability necessary for sustained operations.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Glyptis who said he is confident the Weirton plant can once again “be a leader in the world tinplate business.”

“I was at the North American corporate offices in Chicago Tuesday and I was told that ArcelorMittal plans to shift some of its tinplate business from its Dofasco plant in Canada to Weirton. We will be able to run product we have never done before,” stated Glyptis.

Both James and Glyptis said ArcelorMittal will invest monies in the Tin Mill operation.

“We will see a tension levelor, side trimmer, automated inspection units and steering units installed in the Tin Mill. And the company has committed to investing in the Tin Mill in the corporate five year capital plan,” said Glyptis.

“ArcelorMittal is dedicated to working with its employees to assist in the transition. We are committed to the future of this city—not only by making this facility a premier tinplate producer, but by investing in the community and working with the city and the state to market unused land owned by ArcelorMittal for new development and new job creation,” James declared.

Weirton City Manager Gary DuFour the city has had an ongoing discussion with ArcelorMittal “regarding the unutilized properties owned by the steel company.”

“ArcelorMittal has made a commitment to work with Mayor (Mark) Harris on the steel company property that is no longer used. We started those discussions on the former Open Hearth site and will continue those discussions with ArcelorMittal and the state of West Virginia,” DuFour said.

“We hate to see the loss of any additional employees at the steel mill. But the WARN Act letter we received this afternoon was not unanticipated,” DuFour noted.

The closure of the Hot Strip Mill is the latest of several departmental shutdowns in the Weirton plant since Mittal Steel bought the plant.

Two years ago Mittal Steel permanently closed the blast furnace and Basic Oxygen Plant/Caster operations. That was followed by the Sheet Mill a year later.

There are approximately 1,225 hourly employees at the Weirton plant.

(news-register.net)

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