Most workers left jobless will qualify for severance pay or extended health benefits.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Still reeling from news that Maverick Tube Corp. will close its Poland Avenue pipe mill in the spring, some workers and union officials there say it's not likely the plant will attract a buyer.
"It's an old mill; I think it opened around 1958 or 1959," said Glenn Daley, a 33-year veteran of the mill.
"There's some machinery that Maverick might want, but other than that, nobody's going to want it. I'd say it's going to be just another empty shell in Youngstown."
Maverick, a St. Louis-based tube maker that paid $110 million for the Youngstown plant and five other former LTV Tubular Division mills out of bankruptcy court in October, said Tuesday it would close the local plant sometime in April.
One of the last
The mill is one of the last steelmaking facilities in this city once known as a steel town. Laid-off workers were told they will be called back temporarily in March to finish a few production projects and clear out the plant of inventory.
Plans are to move all the Youngstown production to a state-of-the-art plant Maverick owns in Hickman, Ark., the company said. The move will idle about 80 hourly and salaried workers here.
Gregg Eisenberg, Maverick's president and chief executive, said the Arkansas mill can meet all its customer needs for large-diameter pipe. The move will reduce the company's manufacturing costs.
"Continued declines in the volumes of line and standard pipe produced at the Youngstown facility have resulted in significant operating losses over the last few years," Eisenberg said.
Daley, who works in the mill's shipping department, acknowledged that 2002 was one of the slowest work years he had ever seen, so Maverick's shutdown notice didn't come as a complete surprise.
Dennis Brubaker, a staff official for United Steelworkers of America District 1, said the mill is in good condition, and it's not usual for steel mills to be 50 or 60 years old.
"There could be somebody out there looking for a tubular mill, but I'm afraid it would be somebody hoping to get it for nothing," Brubaker said.
Planned it all along?
Fred Gentile, president of Steelworkers Local 1331 which represents about 57 hourly workers at the mill, said employees believe Maverick planned to close the Youngstown facility from the start.
Four of the other plants Maverick bought produce electrical conduit, which was a new market for the company, he said, but the Youngstown plant and one other produced products similar to those made at Maverick mills.
So far, Gentile said, Maverick has not mentioned closing the former LTV Tubular Division headquarters on Albert Street in Youngstown, which employed 40 at the time of the acquisition.
LTV's mill and office on Albert Street together generated about $35,000 in income tax for the city of Youngstown last year, down from $95,000 in 2001. No loss is good, but the income lost with the closing of the Poland Avenue mill won't be devastating to the city, said Dan Brott, income tax commissioner. It's the families of employees that will hurt much more, he added.
Gentile said the USWA's contract with Maverick provides laid-off workers with some benefits. Those who had 20 or more years' seniority working for LTV can qualify for two years of extended health benefits, or if they choose to break from the company and receive a severance payment, they can qualify for up to eight weeks' pay. Now that the plant is closing, former LTV employees may qualify for an early-retirement pension if they worked for LTV at least 20 years and if their age and years of service total 65 or more.
Workers gathered inside Local 331 union hall in Struthers said they couldn't help feeling like they'd dodged a bullet when Maverick agreed to buy the tubular mills from bankrupt LTV Corp.
"We kind of felt good that somebody bought it. You've got to be a little optimistic," said Darrell Youkey, 44, a Pittsburgh-area resident who was also laid off from a Pittsburgh-area LTV coke plant when it shut down a few years ago.
"I didn't know what I was getting into when I got in steel," he said, shaking his head. "But I've had enough. I think I'll go back to hauling cement."