Steelworkers Meet RG Chief

WHEELING – United Steelworkers union members from RG Steel’s Mingo Junction plant said the message Monday was what it has been for months.

RG officials told them the reopening of the Mingo Junction furnaces and caster and hot strip mill are contingent upon the economy, workers said, following townhall-style meetings held in Wheeling and Mingo Junction.

The meetings gave RG Steel officials the opportunity to get acquainted with their employees and hear their concerns, said company spokeswoman Bette Kovach. The first meeting was held in Wheeling at the McLure Hotel, and the second in Mingo Junction at the Knights of Columbus Hall.

RG owns idled steel mills in Steubenville and Mingo Junction. Meetings also have been held at RG’s other mill locations in Warren, Ohio, and Sparrows Point, Md.

Kovach said workers met John Goodwin, RG Steel’s president and chief executive officer, and other members of his team. Goodwin did not speak with reporters, who were not permitted in the meetings.

”In Wheeling, we met with employees and talked about the long-term success of the company and took suggestions. It’s an ongoing process,” she said. ”We need employee support.”

RG Steel was formed when the Renco Group bought the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, Warren and Sparrows Point mills from Russia’s Severstal in March. Workers said they were told Monday it’s still a matter of business first, with the Mingo Junction plant the last to restart if orders pick up.

But that’s not as dismal as it sounds, said Tom Fillippi of Dillonvale, who is one of a 50-member crew doing maintenance in the Mingo Junction mill.

“What I’ve seen and the way he’s talking, on a moment’s notice if he wants to fire it up, I really feel with the maintenance we’re doing, it can be done,” Fillippi said. “I was off for a year when I went back to work and it surprised me when I walked into the place how good a shape it’s in.”

However, Goodwin spoke as the Dow Jones average dropped more than 600 points, amassing a two-day total loss of more than 1,000 points, counting losses Friday. Severstal had bought the local plants from Esmark just weeks before the financial collapse of September 2008 and ended up shutting down the hot end of the mill in spring 2009.

Fillippi believes there is still hope the mills could reopen.

“But the economy is another thing that has happened. What we got out of it, Sparrows Point has to become viable and Warren has to get customers before we will be restarted,” he said.

Mingo Junction Mayor Domenic Chappano said he was hoping for a clearer resolution.

“I spoke with Mr. Goodwin directly,” Chappano said.

He said he told Goodwin of Mingo Junction having built a $13 million water plant with capacity to serve the mill, and a tax abatement that was granted when Wheeling-Pitt built an electric arc steelmaking furnace in 2004.

“Since the shutdown, the situation has put a strain on the residents because of the cost” of the water plant, he said. “It’s wishful thinking for these guys to think there’s something there when there isn’t. It’s two years or three years down the road.”

He said he understands that money dictates what the company will do, and he said it’s the same for the financially strained village.

“We’re trying to be as frugal as possible,” Chappano said.