Georgetown steel mill talks restart

The Georgetown steelworkers' union board is expected to meet today to continue negotiations that could reopen the steel mill as unemployment benefits begin to run out for some workers.

If the deal moves forward, it would be the second attempt in two years by ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steelmaker, to ask employees to make concessions in order to restart the mill that has been closed since July 2009.

The shutdown, blamed on a lack of orders, left 297 workers unemployed indefinitely.

The workers rejected an offer from ArcelorMittal in August to take a $3.65 per hour pay cut to restart the mill. But as more employees face the end of supplemental benefits, there could be more support for accepting a pay cut.

United Steelworkers Union 7898 President James Sanderson declined to say how much of a cut employees could be asked to take or what kind of scheduling flexibility would be asked of workers.

"Negotiations are delicate right now," Sanderson said. "We are at a very critical time."

Sanderson said he did not want to say anything to endanger negotiations. The company has not released any information regarding the negotiations.

"ArcelorMittal has indefinitely ceased operations at the company's Georgetown facility, which will continue unless market conditions appreciably improve or the plant is put on a more competitive footing," said ArcelorMittal spokesman Bill Steers.

When earnings were released April 29, company Chairman and CEO Lakshmi Mittal said he'd seen increased demand in the main markets and anticipated a stronger year in 2010.

After the union rejected the concessions last August, the company released the following statement: "The facility will remain closed with no plans to reopen as we continue to evaluate our options given the current labor situation and market conditions."

The union as a whole would have to vote to accept or decline any concessions recommended by the union's board.

"I just cannot see any memorandum of understanding not to include wage cuts," Sanderson said.

Sanderson said more employees are facing having their supplemental pay benefits end July 10. The supplemental pay was a percentage of the workers' base wage and continued to be doled out based on their years of service. For those who worked for the company for less than two years, benefits ran out in January.

Sanderson estimated about 19 to 20 of the mill's employees fit into that category.

More employees are expected to be affected as the benefits run out in July for workers who have been with the company between two years and less than 10. Those who have been with the company for 10 years or more will have their benefits cut off in July 2011, he said.