MARTINS FERRY - Local United Steelworkers union leaders hope a court restructuring of RG Steel could free up money to restart steel making at the company's idled Mingo Junction plant.
RG Steel on Thursday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy - a process through which a bankruptcy court will order a reorganization of the company's current debts and assets. Union leaders learned of the bankruptcy filing Thursday morning while meeting with elected federal, state and county leaders about the future of the local steel industry.
John Saunders, USW contract coordinator representing RG Steel workers, said the filing "wasn't unexpected" by the union. He noted while the court decides what direction RG Steel's reorganization takes, the USW will to fight to protect steelmaking assets in the Ohio Valley. The Mingo Junction plant, its arc furnace and 80-inch Hot Strip Mill, have been idle since March 2009.
"If done properly, restructuring could relieve some cash for RG Steel so plants could start back up," he said. "We want to protect assets here so we can make steel again here. The union is committed to doing what it can to preserve these jobs in the Ohio Valley. We are hoping this restructuring gives the company a shot in the arm, and a chance to make steel in the valley again."
But the company's greatest assets are its workers, and the union must work toward retaining their health care benefits, said Ernie Gambellin, president of USW Local 1190 in Steubenville.
He said about 400 work at the RG Steel's coke plant in Follansbee, about 250 at its Yorkville finishing facility, and 65 at the Martins Ferry finishing facility. Another 50 workers are still employed at the Mingo Junction plant, and 25 at RG Steel's Beech Bottom facility.
Presently, the steel finished and made into galvanized steel at local plants is transported to the Ohio Valley from the RG Steel plant at Sparrows Point, Md. Gambellin and Saunders noted that restarting the Mingo Junction facility and making the steel locally would lessen transportation costs, and reduce the overall cost of the finished steel purchased from Ohio Valley plants.
Meanwhile, unfinished substrate steel sits at the Martins Ferry plant waiting to be turned into galvanized steel, said Johnny Waugh, president of USW Local 1238 in Martins Ferry. The plant has sat idle for four weeks as materials needed to coat the steel have not arrived at the plant. Companies that provide the materials are awaiting payment and haven't released orders to RG Steel, he said.
Waugh said the 60-inch coating line is an important asset for RG Steel, and that workers there "produce the best culvert in the world" and keep the company competitive.
"We believe we do it as well here as anywhere in the world," he said. "We just need the materials. Without its lines running, it's hard for any plant to make money."