Georgetown steel mill's wheels to start cranking again

By the week of Jan. 24, the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Georgetown will be back in production mode.

Raw materials have begun arriving at the mill in anticipation of stable production by that week, said ArcelorMittal spokeswoman Katie Patterson.

Initial production is expected to be about 264,000 tons of wire rod annually based on current market conditions, she said. According to ArcelorMittal, the Georgetown mill is capable of producing up to 750,000 tons of wire rod per year.

Patterson said she could not give any information about how the production level at the Georgetown plant compares with previous levels.

James Sanderson, the Local United Steel Workers Union president, said he didn't know the exact amount of wire rod the mill previously produced but said 264,000 tons is "a little less."

"Over the past few months, employees have been performing maintenance projects and preparing equipment for restart," Patterson said.

The mill was shut down in July 2009 due to a lack of orders amid the struggling economy. It remained shut until October, when steel union workers were informed that the mill would begin gearing back up for production.

"Everything is being prepared for running on a stable basis," said Sanderson.

He said about 31 salaried and 144 hourly employees are currently at the plant, and "we are continuing to hire and retrain workers as needed."

He said the mill "has got to get up to 187 [employees]." Before the shutdown, the mill employed about 240 workers.

About six weeks after the mill shut down, the company asked for concessions to stave off the impact of the economic slowdown. Members of Steelworkers Union Local 7898 voted to decline the company's offer of a reduced 32-hour work week and a $3.65-per-hour pay cut when there areorder shortages.

In June, the workers voted to approve concessions that included a $2.00-an-hour wage cut, but did away with a previous request that would have increased insurance costs. Sanderson said the workers will get back $1.00 an hour in September.

The contract also put certain safeguards in place, including a guarantee that once the mill reopens, it will not be shut down until the contract expires in September 2012; and that employees will work 40 hours a week. But it also allows for renegotiations to a 32-hour work week if the economy struggles.

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