Management wouldn't heed the workers, the union president said.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
WARREN -- In the wake of a liquidation auction that left him and 1,120 other Steelworkers jobless, John Kubilis says he can't help thinking of what might have been.
Kubilis, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 2243, was a leader in the 10-month battle to save CSC Ltd., a battle that ended in failure this week.
With no buyer willing to revive the mill, CSC was sold off piecemeal Tuesday and Wednesday in Cleveland.
The union leader said he's determined to put the mill closing behind him, but he believes "bad owners, bad banks and a bad economy" caused the demise of what was once Trumbull County's fourth-largest employer.
Able to speak freely for the first time since CSC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, Kubilis was particularly critical of The Reserve Group, CSC's owner from Akron.
Criticism: "They spent no money of their own in the company," Kubilis said, explaining that Reserve allowed CSC to borrow $100 million for a plant modernization instead of footing the bill.
"They never once reached in their pockets and put money into that facility, and they made a lot of bad decisions. They wouldn't listen to their employees. We're the ones who know about making steel."
Management employees at the idle CSC plant declined to comment, referring questions to officials at the Akron office.
James VanTiem, Reserve executive vice president, refused to comment.
Kubilis said Reserve's first mistake was not seeking concessions from the union when CSC started getting into financial trouble in 1999. Local 2243 made millions of dollars' worth of concessions in the 1980s, he said.
"I'd have gone to the union," he said. "Our history shows that we worked with the company to save jobs."
The union leader said Reserve managers also ignored workers' advice in several phases of the capital improvement project, which was still under way when CSC started having financial problems in 1999.
Errors: For example, he said, the company shut down the old melt shop when its new one was installed, even though start-up difficulties caused production to drop drastically.
Workers recommended that both melt shops be kept running until operators were comfortable with the new equipment, Kubilis said, but the advice was ignored.
Company officials have said, however, that both melt shops could not be operated at once because pollution control equipment was not large enough to handle both.
Kubilis complained that Reserve installed a new continuous caster, spending millions on installation, even though it had no orders for the caster's product.
"They should have left it in the carton for a while," he said. "They wouldn't listen, and they ended up with a $15 million overrun."
He argued that employee training on the new equipment was rushed, and workers were only given about a quarter of the time they needed to learn the operational changes.
A $4 million computer system the company bought to run its business office was another mistake, he said. "The union was never given a say on that, and the one they bought never worked. It was a disaster."
The new system was so bad, he said, that a replacement computer system was marked as a necessary expense in the business plan CSC was putting together to try to persuade a regional management buyout firm to revive the mill. The firm, Renaissance Partners, dropped the project after a two-month study.
Kubilis said he's determined to put CSC behind him, and his new goal is to help find a buyer for the 400 acres of real estate the mill occupied. He's hoping to work with local and state government officials to convert the land into an industrial park.