Angry union leaders vow to fight closing
Cold idling will seal the Warren coke plant's doom, a local labor leader said.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
WARREN -- Faced with the prospect of a permanent cold shutdown and job losses at the LTV coke plant here, the president of the United Steelworkers of America local said the union will oppose LTV's request to close its facilities.
"The union is very upset with the way that LTV has handled this, and it's another example of the mismanagement by the top leaders of LTV," said Mike Rubicz, president of USWA Local 1375, which represents the company's Warren coke plant workers.
"We do not feel that they have given an ample opportunity to make the business successful. They have not conducted their efforts to come out of bankruptcy correctly, and the union will fight to keep the plants open," Rubicz added.
"We've always run solid and made good product, and we're one of the departments that always made money for LTV. Now they all of a sudden say they're going to shut us down cold. If they shut that plant down cold, that brickwork will fall in and you'll never start that plant again. It'll be a disaster. You'll never get a buyer," said Bill Prejsnar, Local 1375's coke plant unit president, who has worked in the plant for 24 years.
"You have to hot idle them -- keep the heat on -- to make them valuable to another interested party," he added. LTV said it would close and cold idle its coke plants in Warren and Chicago.
The company, however, said it will "hot idle" its Cleveland and East Chicago, Ind., works for about 60 days after steelmaking ceases there to allow a potential buyer to acquire the plants in working condition. The Hennepin, Ill., steel finishing plant will also be hot idled, the company said.
"There is some slowing down of the coke battery now taking place, but we're not going to accept this. It makes us all mad. We've been fighting with LTV for the last nine months to keep this place going. Our communities cannot stand the loss of these things,'' Rubicz said Tuesday night at the Local 1375 union hall.
Described as modern: "This plant is not an old antique dinosaur that they're going to shut down. This is a modern coke-making operation. It's a money-making operation for LTV Steel. It could run for years and years if they did nothing to it," said Bob Thompson, coke plant unit secretary, who has worked in the plant for 23 years.
Thompson said union officials would discuss various options including finding an outside buyer or having the employees run it under an employee stock ownership plan.
"The plant, if everything continues the way it is, should run at least through Christmas," he said. But, when it closes, the hardship for laid off workers will be magnified by a weak economy that will make it difficult to find other jobs that pay well, he predicted.
"Just this past summer, we negotiated a new contract with LTV Steel to help them stay in business, which supposedly saved them hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the contract, and now they've turned around several months later and they've petitioned the court to throw the contract out," Thompson said.
The company said it informed the USWA this fall that wage and benefit concessions would be needed to receive $250 million in essential new loans under a revised restructuring plan, but the concessions the union offered Monday were insufficient to fulfill the restructuring plan and get the loans.
Slowing operations: Prejsnar said he received a call Tuesday afternoon from Bill Sullivan, Warren coke plant superintendent, who said the plant would reduce operations slowly to minimize the potential for damage to the plant. Sullivan didn't give a timetable for layoffs or say when the plant would be cold idled, Prejsnar recalled.
A coke plant is a 24-hour operation, and about the same number of staff is required even when production is reduced, Prejsnar observed. Most employees will likely be laid off in a group when the plant is actually cold-idled, with a few maintenance personnel remaining for another week or so, he said.
Prejsnar said he understands a hearing will occur before Judge William Bodoh in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown early next month on the company's request to idle the plants and void its labor agreements.