USW Not Confident On Yorkville Plant Restart

YORKVILLE – After letting the plant sit idle for more than a year, Esmark Inc. hopes to soon start work at the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mill it paid $4.7 million for last year as part of RG Steel’s bankruptcy.

United Steelworkers Local 1223 President Jerry Conners is not sure when the facility will be up and running, but he is still waiting to see what happens to the plant that now stands silent along the Ohio River.

“The tracking system is going forward, but I’m still not really confident on the timeline for the rest of the restart,” Conners said.

Workers are also are now installing a new information system that will integrate operations and inventory of Ohio Cold Rolling Co. and its biggest customer, the nearby Ohio Coatings Co.

Esmark spokesman Bill Keegan said full capacity at the Yorkville plant would be about 160 workers, though he was not sure how many would be called back, or exactly when they would be called. He declined to provide any additional information for this article.

After acquiring the Yorkville plant last year, Esmark first needed to address some environmental issues at the site. Late in 2012, USW members voted 194-24 to accept Esmark’s contract offer in hopes of getting back to work early this year. Conners said the average employee wage in the Esmark deal is set at $21.64 per hour, down from about $26 per hour under the union’s last RG agreement.

Since then, however, it has taken Esmark awhile to get things going in Yorkville. Initially, Esmark officials blamed the “fiscal cliff” negotiations that took place between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., in late 2012 as one of the reasons they would be delayed in restarting the Yorkville mill.

Over the past year, Esmark has cited these reasons to delay firing up the plant:

– “continued weak domestic demand and pricing pressures in the cold-rolled steel marketplace;”

– “the effect of low-priced imports on the U.S. market;” and

– “continued high inventory levels.”

Esmark acquired all the Wheeling-Pitt facilities in 2006 before selling them to OAO Severstal in 2008. Severstal later sold the plants to RG, which filed for bankruptcy last year.

Last summer, Esmark leaders considered purchasing the downtown Wheeling RG Steel headquarters. However, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James P. Bouchard ultimately decided against making a bid for the downtown structure, which was eventually sold to New Albany, Ohio-based Access Infrastructures for $800,000.

Conners said although the situation at Yorkville is not perfect, he recognizes having an owner that intends to operate the facility is a better scenario than is playing out at the remaining facilities of the once mighty Wheeling-Pitt. More than a year after the RG liquidation, the plants in both Martins Ferry and Mingo Junction continue to sit quiet.

A deed on file in the Belmont County Recorder’s Office confirms Wheeling Businessmen Quay Mull and Joseph N. Gompers purchased the Martins Ferry mill land for $2 million. Both Mull and Gompers have been unavailable for comment regarding their plans for the property.

A final destiny is also yet to be determined for the large Mingo Junction plant, which Buffalo, N.Y.-based Frontier Industrial purchased out of the RG bankruptcy for $20 million. Craig Slater, general counsel and vice president for Frontier, has said said steelmakers from India were among those looking at the Mingo facility. India-based steel companies include Essar Steel, Jindal Steel and Tata Steel.

In Steubenville, the rusting structures of the former Wheeling-Pitt. plant are now mostly gone, thanks to the demolition efforts of Wheeling-based Strauss Industries. RG sold the old Steubenville plant to Strauss for a total of $15 million, including $4.3 million for about 103 acres of land, plus another $10.7 million for the scrap and machinery.

Signifying the possible permanent end to steelmaking in Steubenville and Mingo Junction, the USW 1190 hall was closed earlier this year.