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RG workers brace for layoffs

Union leaders wait for answers

May 25, 2012
By LINDA HARRIS - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - As workers at RG Steel's Ohio Valley operations brace for a new round of layoffs, union leaders say they're waiting for answers like everyone else.

The company, plagued by liquidity problems, announced sweeping layoffs after lenders cut off funding for ongoing operations. The layoffs will begin June 4.

"As a consequence of this unexpected development, the company is actively pursuing a buyer of some or all of the company's assets," the company said in the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice issued to Ohio Valley workers and union leaders.

"Though we are hopeful that a buyer will be identified, a sale process under these circumstances is fraught with uncertainty. While that process is under way, we will be compelled to idle the (Ohio Valley operations) and to lay off all or virtually all Wheeling employees. Given the exigency and uncertainty of the situation, we do not know at this time whether the idling will be temporary or permanent."

Workers at RG Steel's Sparrows Point, Warren and Wheeling operations are impacted. The lone exception locally is the coke plant in Follansbee, which operates as a joint venture.

United Steelworkers of America Communications Director Tony Montana said roughly 4,000 workers companywide will be impacted, about half at the company's Sparrows Point, Md., operation "and the rest sort of evenly split between Wheeling and Warren."

The USWA's Dave McCall, who chairs the RG Steel negotiating team, could not be reached for comment, nor could RG Steel spokeswoman Bette Kovach.

Santo Santoro, chief staff representative for USW District 1 and a former Local 1190 president, said few details have been forthcoming. So far, he said they don't know exactly how the layoffs will play out other than to say, much of his membership "probably won't be working, that's the way we read the paper."

"We haven't heard very much from the company itself, other than the W.A.R.N. notice," he said, though adding that operations already are beginning to be scaled back.

"The coke plant (in Follansbee) will be the same, but the rest of them, we're not really sure what they'll be doing," he said. "Even though we have material to run in other plants, we're not sure if the intent is to lay people off right away or keep running. We'll have to find that out. The company hasn't said much, other than what's been in the paper."

He said RG Steel's struggles were no secret. Rumors had circulated for months that the company's financial picture was deteriorating and the company was looking for a buyer, and last week union leaders in Maryland were told the situation had grown "dire."

"The company's been struggling, it's been struggling on and off for two to three months. It's a problem, any way you look at it," he said. "We have to be serious about it, we want to make sure they're here and the mill is running.

"(We're) not there to hurt them in any way, we want to be able to help them get these plants running, that's our position."

Santoro said he's hoping state and federal lawmakers "get involved with this now."

"Everybody preaches about saving jobs, how they're doing this and doing that," he said. "Now's the time for them to step up and try to help this valley out."

RG Steel's Ohio Valley operations have been shaky for months: Santoro said the Mingo plant has been idled more than three years.

"Martins Ferry operated on and off, off and on. Yorkville was operating good because of Ohio Coating Co., and Beech Bottom had been operating great, then for some reason in the past two months it just (tanked)," Santoro said.

"I don't know why business is not coming back like it's supposed to, business has been coming back for other companies but not RG steel and I don't know why. We have good workers, a good product with all the construction going on, our corrugating line should be going crazy."

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