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Zielinsky pens book on Weirton Steel's demise

July 3, 2010
By NANCY TULLIS, For The Weirton Daily Times

NEW CUMBERLAND -Tom Zielinsky had a professional life before becoming Hancock County's technology and communications director.

Zielinsky was a senior manager at Weirton Steel Corp., and was involved in much of the planning and decision making. His position also gave him a front row seat as Weirton Steel slowly slipped into history.

Now Zielinsky has written a book about Weirton Steel's demise. "The Final Days of Weirton Steel: Could the Collapse Have Been Prevented?"

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Tom Zielinsky, currently Hancock County's director of technology and communications, has written a book about his time working for Weirton Steel Corp., focusing on the steel manufacturer's later years.

The book covers 1994 to 2004. He presents facts and insights which didn't make news at the time.

"There were only tidbits of information that made the papers," Zielinsky said. "The book is a recap of events of the period. I let the reader decide."

Zielinsky presents information about the various plans presented to save Weirton Steel. He offers four scenarios, from the board of directors, executive management, the union and elected officials.

"Weirton Steel was always the pace setter for the steel industry," Zielinsky said. "There was revolutionary ingenuity throughout. It was rich in integrity and moral conviction, and I saw that erode month by month."

Weirton Steel's union workers, Independent Steelworkers Union members, finally reached a contract with International Steel Group in 2004, and became part of the United Steelworkers of America. The union's decision brought an end to Weirton Steel operating as it had.

Zielinsky said because Weirton Steel had filed bankruptcy, the union was in the driver's seat and could do what they thought was in the best interest of its members.

In any negotiations, either with Weirton Steel management or ISG, the union had to be able to ratify a contract. Recalling how the deal offered by Weirton Steel management progressed, Zielinsky said, "It's amazing how close we were and how far apart we ended up."

In its heyday, Weirton Steel employed 13,000 workers. By the time ArcelorMittal Steel, the largest steel corporation in the world, purchased ISG in 2005, the workforce had dropped to about 2,000, and finally down to just 900 workers left in both union and management, Zielinsky said.

"Weirton is now a swing plant. The next time something happens that will require a large infusion of cash, they'll shut the rest of it down," he said. "It's all about the money."

Zielinsky said he was involved in a lot of the strategic planning trying to work a deal with Weirton Steel and Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel. He said the framework for Weirton was similar to what the union wanted in 2003.

"We offered a downsized company with 1,200 fewer workers," he said. "The key is if the union would have accepted the offer, we would still be in control of our destiny. We would still have our own controlling interest."

The plan Weirton Steel management offered the union was nearly identical to the plan offered by ISG, and a year later ISG was purchased by ArcelorMittal.

"I show the reader how many times in three years the goals changed," he said. "Any time problems arose, we changed goals. People who have read the book said they were amazed by all that went on behind the scenes."

He said the book is at the publisher now and his goal is to have copies available for an upcoming Weirton Steel retirees picnic. He then plans to schedule a book-signing event at the Swaney Memorial Library.

The No. 9 Tandem Mill was the last new addition to Weirton Steel, built in 1974. He said when Weirton Steel employees went into an employee stock ownership program in 1984, a deal in which the employees are the owners of the company via stock options, "we thought we'd be making steel in Weirton for another hundred years."

(Tullis can be contacted at ntullis@reviewonline.com)

 
 

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