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LTV Union effort to find buyer continues



Published: Tue, February 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



LTV began shutting down the coke plant Saturday, meaning the plant has little time left.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

WARREN -- Despite LTV's plan to shut down the Warren coke plant this week, a union leader isn't willing to give up hope.

"We are still fighting to keep it open. There are a number of avenues that we are pursuing. Until that flame goes out up there, we're going to be doing everything we can to keep that coke plant open," said Mike Rubicz, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 1375, which represents the coke plant workers.

Management of the bankrupt LTV has ordered the shutdown for lack of a buyer and steps are being taken to prepare for that, with the gas to be turned off as early as Wednesday, said Bill Prejsnar, president of the union's coke plant unit.

Mark Tomasch, an LTV spokesman, said shutdown procedures began Saturday and would take a few days.

He said no other company has stepped forward with an offer to buy the plant.

The union had thought Friday that the life of the Warren plant would be extended for 28 days because some of the 10 bidders for LTV's Cleveland blast furnace had said they'd be interested in a coke supply from the Warren plant if they bought the blast furnace, Prejsnar said.

"Nobody knows who's going to get it, so nobody's going to step forward for our product right now,'' he explained.

Cool down: "If we turn the gas off Wednesday, the battery will start its cool-down process and probably by Friday, it will not be able to be restarted," because damage to the plant will be extensive, said Bob Thompson, the union's coke plant unit secretary.

Some 30 union employees are still working at the plant, which previously employed 170 union members, Thompson said. The plant has been without production for about a month. It costs about $35,000 a day to "hot idle" the plant, he said.

Hot idle means the plant is shut down, but is kept warm and operational.

LTV had planned to cold idle the plant last Thursday, but Thompson said "an interested party" other than LTV paid for the continued hot-idling.

Negotiating: A potential customer was negotiating to buy coal that LTV would turn into coke for that customer this month, he said. Those negotiations hit a snag because of uncertainty about liability insurance for workers compensation, Thompson said.

"They're still talking. We're still hopeful. The union's gotten involved with it today. We're talking to local and state politicians to see if there's anything that we can do to break this logjam,'' Thompson said.

Earlier, Tonawanda Coke Corp., of Tonawanda, N.Y., offered to buy the plant for $1, but Tonawanda couldn't get a customer to buy the amount of coke Tonawanda had expected.

Judge William Bodoh of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown gave LTV the authority to sell the plant to Tonawanda.

Outlook: Except for a 12-day hot-idling in 1988 for a major gas line repair, the plant has been in continuous operation since July 1979, Thompson said, adding that the plant would be capable of another 20 years of trouble-free operation. Thompson said he understood the gas was being turned off Monday evening at LTV's Chicago coke plant.




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