AK, union to talk todayBy Thomas Gnau, Journal Business
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Representatives of AK Steel Corp. will meet this morning with
leaders of the union representing more than 3,000 workers at AK’s
largest plant, Middletown Works.
But the meeting may not be the start of talks AK officials have
sought. Ed Shelley, president of Armco Employees Independent
Federation, said he expects AK officials to present ways the company
can remain competitive in what might be the most challenging climate
for the American steel industry since the Great Depression.
What follows today’s meeting will be up to AEIF leaders.
“Our board will determine after that if we think we want to move
forward with any talks,” Shelley said Wednesday.
AK asked the union earlier this month to begin talks that could
reopen the current Middletown collective bargaining agreement. That
contract expires on Feb. 28, 2006.
Alan McCoy, AK vice president of public affairs, declined to say
what AK officials will tell union representatives today.
But McCoy said the company has issued similar invitations to
unions representing workers at its other plants, and some of those
talks have started.
Some of AK’s peers, International Steel Group and U.S. Steel most
notably, have been able to at least temporarily shed some “legacy”
costs — pensions and retiree health care benefits. Contracts
allowing that kind of latitude have been negotiated as those
companies acquired the assets of bankrupt firms.
“Most of the other steel companies have sat with their employee
representatives and worked out some kind of cost reductions going
forward,” union consultant Michael Locker said.
While Locker said the AEIF must “consider carefully” such talks,
he noted that United Steelworkers of America has negotiated pacts
that impose managerial belt-tightening, capping executive pay and
controlling manager-worker ratios.
AK is also being sued by Ohio and federal governments for alleged
environmental law violations. The company is resisting possible
punitive fines from that lawsuit, which could go to trial in U.S.
District Court in Cincinnati late this year or early next year.
A Fortune 500 company, AK has more than 4,000 local employees at
its plant and corporate headquarters. It has six other plants and
about 10,000 workers total in several states.