Many in Georgetown wary of mill restart

At night, you can find Ed Green patrolling the ArcelorMittal steel mill, making sure that no intruders destroy or steal the equipment and machinery at the idle mill.

Green, vice president of the United Steel Workers Local 7898, said his job is a sign that the world's largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal still has an interest in Georgetown.

"It's not like we have walked away," Green said.

The mill was shut down indefinitely in July 2009 due to a lack of orders, but the company is still making sure to maintain the equipment.

The company released statements last week and in August 2009, saying the mill will be reopened when market conditions improve or the mill is on a more "competitive footing."

About 30 of the union's members met Wednesday at the union hall for what Green called a "general membership meeting."

He said no votes were taken.

Green declined to say whether there were concessions the union needed to make in order to reopen the mill.

"All I can say is we are doing everything we can," Green said.

He said he is remaining optimistic that the plant will reopen.

"Basically, we are seeing some improvements in the market," he said. "This is one plant that is producing a high quality product: steel rod."

He also declined to comment on whether the union's membership would be called for a vote in the near future to make concessions.

"I can't answer that," Green said.

The company's last attempt to re-open the mill and on a more "competitive footing" was in August 2009, when employees were asked to take a $3.65 per hour pay cut and a reduced 32-hour work week if production was slow. The reduced hours would have removed the overtime, holiday pay and night time supplemental pay that many employees rely on. The offer was rejected.

Green said the majority of the steelworkers want the mill to reopen and want to come back if the mill restarts.

"It is hard, hot, dirty work, but we love it," Green said. "That steel mill has not only been good to the work force, but it's been good to the community. From a personal standpoint, I have been able to raise three children and take care of my family."

Employees receive supplemental pay that equals 60 percent to 80 percent of their base pay, based on their years of service. But for some of those with fewer years at the plant, their unemployment and supplemental base pay benefits are starting to run out, and they are eager to return to work, said veteran steelworker Bowman Childers.

Childers, however, is not one of those who is likely to return even if the mill reopens. Childers, who has worked for the mill for 35 years, plans to retire. But he does not think he is the norm.

"I think the majority wants to go back to work," Childers said. "I would vote for the mill to start back up and any concessions."

He thinks the mill's reopening is much farther off.

"No time soon," said Childers. "There is not a lot of demand for our product right now."

Ronald Pierce, 61, is another long-time steelworker and said he, too, is likely to retire. He has been working at the mill since 1970.

"I think they are likely to lose about 20 percent to retirement," estimated Pierce.

He was also cautious about predicting the mill's reopening.

"It's got to be economical for the mill to re-open," Pierce said. "I don't think the mill will reopen by the end of summer."