A judge approved selling the Warren coke plant if a potential buyer finds someone to buy the coke.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Instead of going back to work today, laid-off workers at LTV's coke plant in Warren are waiting for word on the fate of their plant and thinking of training for other jobs.
Tim Johnson, 46, of Canfield, is considering what he can do with computer classes he took last year and a commercial driver's license he received.
Nelson Toles, 42, of Warren, is thinking about taking some computer classes and intends to take the test for his real estate license. He already has taken classes in real estate sales.
Both men came to U.S. Bankruptcy Court on Wednesday hoping to hear that the coke plant was going to be restarted and that they had their jobs back.
They left considering other employment options.
Backed out: The company that was going to restart the plant, an affiliate of Tonawanda Coke Corp., backed out of a deal to buy the plant because a proposed customer wouldn't commit to buying the coke.
Tonawanda has until the end of the day today to gain commitments for the coke. LTV has said it will shut down the plant after today if there is no sale. Shutting down a coke plant's furnaces causes severe damage, making it unlikely they will be sold.
Just in case Tonawanda officials find a buyer, Judge William Bodoh gave LTV the authority to sell the plant, which has been idling without production for about a month.
Doubts: A few dozen workers who came to the hearing hoping for good news instead left knowing only that there would be a union meeting Monday where they would receive more information.
"It's a roller coaster, and it's not fun," said Johnson, who has 26 years with LTV and 13 years at the coke plant. Coke is used in the steel-making process.
Johnson said he still has hope that Tonawanda will buy the plant but he didn't feel as good as he did before the hearing.
"The scary thing is that if this deal goes through, do I want to work for Tonawanda?" he said.
He said he is concerned he will have to take cuts in pay and benefits.
Employment: A buyer would not have to hire the laid-off workers, who are members of United Steelworkers Local 1375, because the union contract was voided in court. Tonawanda took applications from laid-off workers this week, however, and workers were told they wanted a work force ready today to go back into the plant.
No one knows how many people Tonawanda would employ. The plant used to employ 180 hourly and 30 salaried workers.
After the hearing, Tonawanda officials declined to comment. The company has union coke plants in Buffalo, N.Y., and Erie, Pa.
Toles said he wasn't shocked the deal to buy the plant sidetracked.
"I told guys all along that we didn't have a buyer -- we had a bidder," he said.
He said the best hope seems to be an extension from LTV.
Michael Rubicz, Local 1375 president, said he's hoping LTV will give Tonawanda at least through the weekend to find buyers for the coke.
He said the plant has been handicapped because its closing date isn't the same as LTV's steel mills. Those mills are being idled until Feb. 28.
If LTV had given the coke plants in Warren and Chicago the same deadline, it would be more likely that a company would buy them as a package deal, he said.
LTV had 19 hourly workers on the job after it stopped production last month. Those workers were laid off Wednesday.