MIDDLETOWN, Ohio - After years of clashing with
labor unions and battling with environmentalists and regulators, AK
Steel Corp. is taking a more conciliatory approach since its
management shake-up last month.
At the urging of the company's board of directors, interim chief
executive officer James Wainscott has begun a new era since his
Sept. 18 promotion. He met with an environmentalist to open lines of
communication and huddled with United Steelworkers union officials
before they jointly announced an agreement to try to work out
disputes lingering from a bitter, 39-month worker lockout that ended
last year at AK Steel's Mansfield plant.
The change has been noticed by union workers, industry analysts
and business leaders in this southwest Ohio city where the company
is based and is the dominant employer.
"I think the new management is working hard to create
partnerships on all fronts. We definitely want to have a
partnership," said Rachael Belz of Ohio Citizen Action.
Belz's group is part of an environmental coalition that teamed
with some Middletown residents in recent years to accuse AK Steel of
contaminating a creek and showering neighbors' homes with dust from
the Middletown Works mill. Belz met with Wainscott at AK Steel's
headquarters on Oct. 2. She wouldn't say what was discussed, but
said there was a mutual agreement to keep talking.
Belz said the company rebuffed requests for such meetings with
the coalition under chief executive Richard Wardrop Jr., who
resigned Sept. 18 along with former president John Hritz under an
agreement with AK Steel's board.
Wainscott declined through a spokesman to be interviewed
Thursday. Wardrop, who had been CEO since 1995 and came under
increased pressure in recent months as the company's stock price
fell, did not return telephone messages left at his home and has not
spoken publicly since his departure.
Company spokesman Alan McCoy said Wainscott has been asked to
take a new look at all issues.
"The board said it's time for a fresh perspective," McCoy said.
"Without speaking specifically to any case, he's taking a fresh
perspective on all challenges we face."
Wainscott, 46, an eight-year AK Steel veteran who previously
worked for National Steel Corp., clearly has new instructions from
his board, industry analyst Brian Rayle said.
"He's definitely made a lot of progress in terms of working with
the unions," said Rayle, of FTN Midwest Research in Cleveland. "The
fact that the board kicked Wardrop out indicates they didn't like
the direction he was going in."
The federal and state governments sued AK Steel in June 2000,
accusing the company of years of pollution violations at the
Middletown Works. AK Steel has contested the lawsuit, which still
McCoy declined to say whether AK Steel will revise its approach
to the lawsuit under the new management.
AK Steel's board said it is looking for a permanent successor to
Wardrop and hasn't said whether Wainscott is a candidate or how long
he will serve as interim CEO.
Ed Shelley, president of the Middletown Works employees' union,
the Armco Employees Independent Federation, often has clashed with
AK Steel's management. He said he met with Wainscott at the new
CEO's invitation the week after his promotion.
Shelley termed it an introductory meeting and said he hopes to
arrange a meeting later this month with Wainscott and the union's
"My first impression is that he appears to be wanting to work
with the union," said Shelley, a 34-year Middletown Works employee.
"I don't know what that's going to mean in the long-term."
This week, AK Steel announced that it is renewing its membership
in the regional Mid-Miami Valley Chamber of Commerce. The company
had left in April after the chamber invited as a luncheon speaker a
Cincinnati lawyer, Stanley Chesley, who had previously sued AK
Company leaders never publicly explained the decision to leave
the chamber, beyond saying that the organization wasn't meeting the
company's needs. Within two weeks, the chamber's president
This week, Wainscott said in a prepared statement that AK Steel
is rejoining to offer its support because it believes the chamber
has refocused its mission.
Scott Stacey, general manager of the Manchester Inn and
Conference Center in Middletown where AK Steel frequently sponsors
meetings and houses its business guests, said he has heard only
positive responses to Wainscott's first few weeks as top
"The approach they're taking has been well received," Stacey
AK Steel has about 10,000 employees in plants and offices in
Middletown, Coshocton, Mansfield, Walbridge and Zanesville, Ohio;
Ashland, Ky.; Rockport and Columbus, Ind.; and Butler, Pa. The
company also operates an industrial park on the Houston shipping
channel in Texas and owns Douglas Dynamics, which makes snowplows
and salt spreaders for medium-size trucks.
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AK Steel: http://www.aksteel.com/