USW, Howmet reach deal to save melt shop
Agree to $3M in capital improvements, layoffs
WEATHERSFIELD — United Steelworkers at Howmet and executives with the Pittsburgh-based company have a new two-year agreement that saves the plant’s titanium melt shop from closing and keeps the facility viable for when the aerospace industry recovers from the viral pandemic.
The deal reached Thursday calls for the company to invest millions in capital improvements at the Warren Avenue plant that, according to the top union official there, will drive down the cost to make titanium, making the facility more competitive and cost effective.
In exchange, USW Local 2155 President Terry Thirion said the union agreed to Howmet’s wanting flexibility in contract language that allows the company to contract out work and with staffing in the melt shop.
There will be layoffs of about 50 people in the plant, including about 20 in the melt shop, he said. The facility also has a rolling mill and press operation.
Thirion expects the reductions to happen in early March.
“Because of the downturn in the market, this is probably the best case scenario for us, for the long-term viability of this plant,” Thirion said. “It is awful we are going to have layoffs. It is something that is not good at all, but the outcome is we think we have helped secure the long-term viability of this plant.”
About 350 are working in the plant now, he said, down from about 500 before earlier rounds of layoffs. When the aerospace industry rebounds from the pandemic, those people will be called back to work, he said.
There were no changes to health care or to pay in the agreement, which is a two-year extension to a contract the sides agreed to in July 2019. That deal was to expire in April 2022.
Paul Erwin, spokesman for Howmet, emailed that with the agreement, melt operations will continue to operate with the “ability to flex volumes based on demand from customers.”
The company will invest at least $1.8 million in the next two years into the melt shop to add capacity and improve operations to position the plant for the market recovery and $2.4 million more in nonmelt operations this year, he wrote.
The layoffs, according to Erwin, will be to hourly and salaried positions.
“We appreciate the willingness of USW representatives to work together with us, as we all navigate the pandemic to support the long-term viability of the Niles Operations,” Erwin’s email states.
Thirion said the company approached the union in November about shutting down the melt shop and moving the work to Michigan and Canton, but contract language prevented the move. The new deal allows some of the work to move to Canton, but the investment, Thirion said, will make the local plant competitive with the facility in Stark County.
“We’re letting them reduce the head count and still letting some of our work come out, but with that we are bringing new equipment and new capital into the Niles facility to improve cost effectiveness,” Thirion said.
The plant is in Weathersfield, a township, but is named Niles Operations.
Thirion credited members of Local 2155, who went “above and beyond” to show Howmet executives the melt shop was worth saving and investing in, and to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who reached out to management to urge them consider options other than shuttering the melt shop.
Ryan earlier this week released a letter to Merrick Murphy, president of Howmet Structure and Wheel Systems, calling on him to exhaust and examine “every available option” to alleviate downsizing in Weathersfield.
“Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching economic consequences disrupting aerospace and defense companies across the nation, but through no fault of the hard-working employees whose jobs are at risk. I hope that every available option to alleviate a downsizing would be examined and fully exhausted,” Ryan wrote.