The union leader said furloughed workers can expect to vote on a modified contract by mid-September.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
WARREN -- Furloughed CSC Ltd. workers are skeptical about prospects that the idled steel mill might be bought and reopened, but their union president still believes it will happen. And soon.
"They're skeptical, and you can't blame them," said John Kubilis, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 2243. "Until we get something finalized, it's hard to accept, and I think a lot of guys don't want to get their hopes up."
He said union leaders were pleased this week when Judge William Bodoh of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown set an Oct. 1 deadline for bids on the plant.
"The judge gave us some relief for a while, and I think he satisfied everybody with that decision," he said.
Negotiations: Kubilis is confident the date will allow ample time for Renaissance Partners of Cleveland to negotiate a modified agreement with USWA and to submit a purchase offer for the mill.
Renaissance Partners, which specializes in turning around troubled companies, has said it has investors ready to buy CSC if it can show how the mill can be made profitable again. The company has characterized the labor agreement as the only hurdle it must cross to complete its business plan and bid on the mill.
Attorneys for Renaissance Partners and the USWA are working out the legal details of a modified contract for Local 2243. Kubilis said he and other local officials will join them in a week to 10 days to begin hammering out financial and staffing details.
Once the two sides reach an agreement on a tentative contract, he said, the union will take the agreement to its members for a ratification vote. Kubilis estimates that will happen around mid-September.
Fraction of workers: Kubilis said only a small fraction of the former work force would be called on to start up the mill. Negotiators have not determined whether the first group of workers would be called back based on seniority alone, or based on other factors as well.
Instead of having workers on duty in each department, he said, the company might use a single group of workers at first who would "follow the steel" as it moves through the production process.
"Our members are well aware that they're going to have to be flexible as crazy," he said.
Most of CSC's 1,375 employees, including 1,120 union members, were left jobless when the steel bar mill closed in April. CSC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January.
Closing: In a related matter, Kubilis said the local will be forced to close its food bank for furloughed CSC workers because a new owner is taking over the building next door to the union hall where the food has been stored.
The union has distributed more than 2,700 food baskets to its jobless members this spring and summer, he said, thanks to food and cash donations from individuals, public officials and area labor unions. "The community has been very good to us," Kubilis said.
CSC workers can pick up a box of food before the food bank closes between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday. Union leaders hope to offer the assistance again soon, possibly distributing the food from the back of a truck.