Steel Contract Negotiations Begin Today

KIM LOCCISANO – Staff Writer , Times Leader

YORKVILLE — Contract negotiations at the local plant level will be starting up in earnest today in Yorkville at USW Local 1223, as workers who helped idle the plant several months ago during the closing days of ownership by RG Steel – then considered one of the top producing companies in the country – hope for an agreement suitable for ratification.

A tentative agreement suitable for returning to the membership for a ratification vote is the hoped for outcome from both sides going into this negotiation, according to leadership at the mill’s new parent company, Esmark Inc. and Yorkville USW Local President Jerry Conners.

Obtaining a ratified contract approved by members of the United Steelworkers Local 1223 is of vital importance to the entire process aimed at getting the local cold-rolled mill back into operation by the beginning of 2013, at the latest, according to Esmark.

Late last week, as details needing accomplished in order to close the pending sale were made public by both sides which included news an essential building block of the contract process, a “term sheet” had been signed by USW District 1 (Ohio) Director Dave McCall.

Esmark officials said at a press conference Friday they fully appreciate how important the knowledge base held by the mill’s experienced employee group is to the prospect of getting it successfully back in good running order as soon as is possible.

The man at the head of Sewickley-based Esmark, a diversified corporation, James P. Bouchard, knows others in the industry – in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe – are looking at his decision to jump in the deep end with the intention of rescuing and reviving one of the country’s most historic steel mills at a time when pricing for steel is depressed as a completely wrong move.

He understands their thinking, but does not agree.

Recognizing the details of the down domestic and international steel marketplaces, he still felt it was the right move to make at this point in time and said candidly, “It feels right.”

However, it was a business decision he believes is solid.

Bouchard and his strategists have already taken steps to address traditional cost issues for such an operation essentially by remembering to think and plan beyond the obvious – whether for today’s business climate or for
anticipated scenarios more likely to be realized several years down the road.

He expects to build on the amount of barge transportation utilized by the two Yorkville steel facilities in the immediate future, noting the purchase of the Yorkville mill included the barge loading area on the Ohio River. He noted that barge traffic affords savings opportunities other traditional modes of transportation do not.

It is an approach to cost controls and resource identification and usage being championed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich’s comments at the event Friday made it clear he sees Esmark’s foothold in this section of the riverfront area as a reality with nothing but good results for now and in the future.

He noted there is a substantial market for light gauge steel in the nation’s southern regions, though it is an industry still in a “healing” mode from several difficult pressures that came with various deep downturns.

This attention to better utilizing the natural opportunities presented via the Ohio River are high on Bouchard’s list of resources to regularly revisit in hopes of continuing to develop cost effective ways to get products to customers.

Discussions have been held concerning more cost effective methods to make the best use possible of the naturally available minerals and gas on the mill’s property.

Since Esmark has a large energy development component within its corporate structure – which includes drilling and sales resources — it would not be surprising to see those resources being put to work in a way beneficial to the Yorkville facilities operating costs, and which might even be looked to for ways to help keep costs down in the long term on a broader basis, offered Bouchard.

Which is one reason which includes construction projects large and small, and Esmark has solid relationships with representatives in the barge transportation circles of the Pittsburgh area which are already being positioned to make cost effective transportation options available to Esmark for its two facilities in Yorkville.

He also confirmed personnel from Esmark’s offices in the Pittsburgh area are preparing to get basic human resources essentials identified and established locally in order to help facilitate efforts to get employee related details addressed effectively and in a timely manner so as to bring the mill back to life in time to begin regular production efforts at the end of the year or in early January of 2013.