It may take many weeks to hammer out the financial details of a revised union contract, the local president said.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
WARREN -- Employees returning to a revived CSC Ltd. would have to be flexible and willing to switch from one job to another if the steel bar mill is to be resurrected successfully, a union leader said.
John Kubilis, president of Local 2243 of the United Steelworkers of America, said the union began negotiating contract revisions Tuesday with CSC managers and representatives of Renaissance Partners Inc., a management buyout company that is putting together a business plan to save the troubled company.
A modified union contract that would allow CSC flexibility as it resumes operations is one of many tasks Renaissance Partners has listed as prerequisites for a revival. The company, which has offices in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit, says it has a party willing to buy the mill if CSC offers a plan to prove it can operate profitably.
"We're breaking new ground," Kubilis said. "We're talking about reopening a facility that has no inventory, no order book, no customer base. We've got a unique situation, so we've got to come up with a whole different approach."
About talks: Kubilis said the two sides started out discussing noneconomic issues, such as training, work schedules and job classifications.
Scheduling must be very flexible, he explained, because the mill will start up one section at a time with a very small work force at first. Workers will have to be trained to move from job to job, in contrast to the way union contracts generally set strict limits on what tasks each job classification can perform.
The two sides have not yet addressed the term of the contract or the union's proposal for an employee buyout in partnership with a private investor.
Kubilis expects to have the nonmoney issues resolved before the end of the week, after which the talks will move to Pittsburgh to concentrate on financial matters. The USW wants to move the negotiations to Pittsburgh because the union has its attorneys and top negotiators there, he said.
Time crunch: Even with both sides determined to keep the talks on a fast track, Kubilis estimates it will take at least 45 days to complete the contract revision. Negotiations would take as long as nine months in a more typical situation.
"We're running against a clock, and time is not on our side," he said.
Judge William Bodoh of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 21 on a request by CSC's unsecured creditors to have the mill's Chapter 11 bankruptcy changed to a Chapter 7 case. That would allow the plant's assets to be dismantled and sold piecemeal.
Kubilis said the union will likely ask Judge Bodoh for an extension, if talks are progressing well enough by Aug. 21 to justify that request.
If union, company and Renaissance leaders reach consensus on a revised union contract, Kubilis said, it would probably be presented to Local 2243 members as part of a complete proposal that would also include the business plan for reviving the company.
Business plan: Don Caiazza, a former CSC president and one of only four managers still working at the plant, is charged with writing the business plan spelling out a startup strategy. Kubilis said Renaissance has also begun to interview applicants for a new management team to run the mill.