Approximately 750 jobless as AK Steel is idled

Published 11:04 am Thursday, May 14, 2009

ASHLAND, Ky. — It’s wasn’t a great way to start a new job. Doug Campbell was only on his third day as president of the local steelworkers union when it looked like the bottom fell out for those he represents.

At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday Campbell got word that AK Steel’s Ashland Works was being idled. That means the approximately 650 workers represented by Steelworkers Union 1865 are out of work for now.

That news came less than four months after those same workers had gotten back on the job after an earlier two-month layoff. This layoff is expected to last much longer.

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Starting in late July or early August the local plant will be idled, affecting approximately 750 hourly and salaried employees, according to a press release issued by the company’s headquarters Wednesday.

The financial crises facing GM and Chrysler are named as the main causes for the idling.

The news wasn’t all that unexpected

“We knew watching the economy, Chrysler filing bankruptcy and all the problems with GM,” Campbell said. “A lot of our business is automotive.

“If you look out and see what is going on in the automobile industry. We had been hearing rumors for about a month. It is not a big surprise, but you hate when it happened.”

It was the beleaguered car industry that forced an idling back in November.

At that time more than 600 employees were affected. However, at that time, management said the workforce would be back by the first of the year.

That’s not the case now as the company anticipates the idling to last at least the rest of the year, the release states.

“Unfortunately, at these very depressed business levels, we do not have sufficient carbon steel orders to operate both of our blast furnace plants,” James L. Wainscott, chairman and CEO of AK Steel, said in a press release.

Factored in is the inability of the Ashland Works to produce “a full range of slab widths … and lacks any rolling facilities,” Wainscott said. Slabs produced at Ashland must be sent to the plant in Middletown for conversion to hot-rolled coils.

The reason the earlier layoff was so short was that Ashland was picking up work from Middletown while its plant was down, Campbell said.

“A lot of people don’t realize they had trouble with their blast furnace,” he said. “We have been producing while they were repairing.”

Union members with more than three years but less than 10 are guaranteed 60 percent of their base pay with a minimum of $250 a week. Base pay makes up the difference between that 60 percent and unemployment benefits. From week 27 to 52, that is reduced to 40 percent.

“After 26 weeks, unemployment runs out unless you get an extension,” Campbell said.

After the first year those with that seniority won’t get any sub pay.

Campbell has no word when or if the Ashland Works will come back on board.

Wainscott did not lay out any guarantee or timetable in his statement.

“It is our hope that it will come back,” Campbell said. “They haven’t told me.”