STEUBENVILLE - Frustrated that after 10 months as a standalone company they still don't have a contract with Mountain State Carbon, on Wednesday United Steelworkers union representatives said they "are prepared to take whatever action is necessary to see our loyalty and years of service protected."
Ernie Gambellin, a member of USW Local 1190's bargaining team, said negotiators for Mountain State's parent company, Russian steelmaker Severstal, have only come to the table "five or six times" since co-owner RG Steel filed for bankruptcy.
Mountain State Carbon had operated as a joint venture between the companies, but that arrangement was thrown into turmoil when RG Steel sought bankruptcy protection 13 months ago. RG Steel had purchased Mountain State Carbon, along with Wheeling Corrugating, Ohio Coatings and a handful of other former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. properties from Severstal for $1.2 billion in 2011. RG Steel alleged misrepresentations and contractual breaches by the Russian company caused liquidity problems that pushed them into bankruptcy. Severstal denied the allegations.
In a statement released during a press conference, USW Local 1190's bargaining unit representatives said when they started negotiating in September, "we understood bargaining with MSC as a standalone coke plant would be different than bargaining with RG Steel, so we focused our proposals on issues relevant to the coke plant."
"We all want a contract that will support efforts to expand the company's operations, but we also deserve to have our interests protected," the statement read. "We have tried throughout the whole bargaining process to resolve our disputes with management in a way that is fair to everyone. But management, unfortunately, doesn't appear to share our goal in resolving these issues."
Union representatives say management "has taken a 'my way or the highway' approach."
Gambellin said the company is trying to strip union members of economic benefits "while preserving the benefits of management," and said the union is is prepared "to take whatever action is necessary" to protect its members "loyalty and years of service."
Gambellin said roughly 220 workers remain on the job. He figures the average worker is in his late 50s with 32-plus years on the job.
"Ten months ... and we've probably only met a handful of times," he added. "They lay their demands out and don't bargain - it's 'take it or leave it.'"
He suggested the company's "distant ownership" is a big part of the problem. "I don't think they see a need to get anything for this valley," he said. "We're not in full production, the old block is still not running, there are probably another 150 jobs or more (tied to a restart). We want nothing more than for those jobs to come back - they mean more to us, to this valley, than they do to some distant owner (who has) no loyalty to the valley. The USW and the working people here have everything to lose."
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)