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AK suspends 11 workers in death

By Thomas Gnau, Journal Business Writer, E-mail:

AK Steel Corp. has suspended 11 workers — including five who are subject to possible discharge — in the wake of an overhead crane accident that killed a worker last month at AK’s Middletown Works, a union chief confirmed Tuesday.

When contacted by The Journal Tuesday, Ed Shelley, president of Armco Employees Independent Federation, confirmed the suspensions and said those affected have union and company grievance procedures available to them. Appeal hearings for four of the five workers subject to possible discharge were already held Tuesday, Shelley said.

Shelley, head of the union that represents more than 3,000 AK workers in Middletown, contends the discipline is inappropriate.

“These guys will relive that accident for the rest of their lives,” he said.

And he called the action “premature.”

“I don’t think all the investigation is completed,” he said.

Some of the workers were escorted from company property late last week, when union officials learned of the discipline, Shelley said.

Shelley said he learned of another suspension Monday.

Besides the five facing possible discharges, six workers received unpaid suspensions for varying numbers of days, Shelley also said.

On July 10, the lifting block of an overhead crane in the plant’s annealing area fell on a forklift, killing the forklift operator, Waynesville resident Ralph Eric Jones, 41. No one else was hurt.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, AK and the AEIF have been investigating.

Since July 10, Richard Gilgrist, head of the Cincinnati-area OSHA office, has expressed concern with how many people at the time of the accident were in the “immediate vicinity” of the crane, on which maintenance was being performed.

Gilgrist also has said the operator of the overhead crane could not see how close the lower crane block was getting to the crane’s upper block.

Gilgrist could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He said last week that he could offer no conclusions about what caused the accident.

AK Vice President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy declined comment Tuesday.

Shelley declined to offer details about the workers affected and the reasons being offered for their discipline.

“I can only say it was related to the crane accident, from their (the company’s) perspective,” Shelley said.

“I’m sure there’s going to be litigation,” he added, declining to elaborate.

AK has more than 10,000 employees in several states, including about 4,000 in Middletown.

Published 08.27.03



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