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Union seeks plant buyer

Local Steel Workers Union members will seek a buyer for Intermet-Ironton Iron – a last effort to save the 600 jobs threatened by the foundry’s impending shut down.

Thursday, December 09, 1999

Local Steel Workers Union members will seek a buyer for Intermet-Ironton Iron – a last effort to save the 600 jobs threatened by the foundry’s impending shut down.

"The company made it clear that it didn’t matter what we could offer, they were done doing business in Ironton," said Dave Akers, United Steel Workers Local 3664 bargaining unit chairman.

So, union leaders want to invite another company to take over, and want help from city, state and federal officials on creating tax incentive packages to do it, Akers said.

"We’re optimistic we will find a buyer to come in and purchase the plant," he said. "We need these jobs and we’ve got a good workforce that can do it. Sometimes, in discouragement itself, you’ve got to take hold of any optimism you can."

The union will bank on efforts of state Steel Workers officials, one of whom has accomplished the same thing – finding buyers for plants under shutdown notices – twice within the last year, Akers said.

Also, Akers, union president Charles Spencer and negotiating committee members met Wednesday at the Ironton City Center with Mayor Bob Cleary and representatives of U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.

Greg Hargett, district director for Strickland, told the union that the congressman’s Washington, D.C., staff is looking at ways to help.

"And the congressman will speak with the governor and the director of development," Hargett said. "We need to get the attention of some high-power folks in the state."

There might be international trade issues, federal policies to check, and there are programs that help retrain workers or assist with job placement, he said.

"But if the folks here and the community are committed to finding another tenant, we need to focus on that," Hargett said.

There could be strings that the representative can pull, but more information is needed before that happens, he said.

In the meantime, Strickland can help with any "red carpet treatment" of a potential foundry buyer, Hargett said.

Cleary said the city supports saving the plant, and will focus on working together with local and state economic developers to find incentives to market to any new companies or even Intermet.

"We asked if there is anything we can do to keep the jobs here and Intermet said no," Akers said.

But corporate officials would not rule out the chance to sell the plant, he said.

And, if potential buyers do come around, they said they might keep a skeleton crew so the plant could be shown in operation, he added.

Meanwhile, union workers remain somewhat surprised by Tuesday’s shutdown announcement, especially since production levels have been high and work strong from 532 hourly employees, Akers said.

"The company didn’t imply there were labor problems, in fact they said they take responsibility for the shutdown, but we went in there only thinking they were downsizing or cutting back," he said.

Akers said Intermet only repaired the plant as needed in recent years, without investing heavily in modernizing the plant, and kept changing plant managers, but he added that the union is not interested in blame at this point.

"We’re just trying to look ahead as optimistically as we can," Akers said.

If a new company is not found, workers will have to make other plans, but some of the older employees might be faced with tough times, said Danny Haas of the union’s negotiating committee.

"Companies look at you differently, even if they’re not supposed to, and they know you won’t be employed long because you’re close to retirement," he said.

At least 80 percent of the workforce have families, which makes the impending shutdown even worse on the local economy, especially considering wages averaged between $10 and $14 an hour, said Bob Deeds.

That was not as good as other foundries, but decent wages in Ironton, he said.

With a shutdown, there are no union benefits except for legal representation, Akers said.

The union may have to negotiate a contract extension from the Jan. 31 contract deadline until Feb. 7 expiration of the WARN Act notice that the plant will be shut down, he said.

And, there is a Jan. 11 meeting with Intermet to discuss severance packages, said Bill Malone of the union’s negotiating committee.

"They’ll bring in a package and we will come up with our own," Malone said.