Sunday, May 13, 2001

Locked-out steel crews attend rally

Union members travel to Middletown event

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — Don Metz Jr. has worked at the steel plant in Mansfield for 18 years. He's a third-generation steelworker, but hasn't worked since September 1999.

        “We're surviving,” he said Saturday afternoon. “My wife's working part time. We're getting a lot of help from the International, from donations.”

        Mr. Metz was among hundreds of union members and their families who attended a rally here Saturday to protest what steelworker union officials say is “economic terrorism” on the part of AK Steel against steelworkers.

        The rally, held at Lefferson Playfield, attracted about 1,300 people, union officials said. Many are members of United Steelworkers of America locals from Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

        More than 500 members of the steelworkers Local 169 in Mansfield have been locked out of AK's plant there since Sept. 1, 1999.

        Union officials said about 100 to 120 of those attending the rally here were from Mansfield. While the union has held four previous rallies in Mansfield, this was the first time they've come to Middletown to protest.

        AK Steel's headquarters are in Middletown, where it employs 3,700 at its Middletown Works. Union officials said the rally would be harder for company officials to ignore if it were staged in Middletown.

        “We thought the company would have come to their senses long before this,” said Randy Reeder, vice presi dent of USWA Local 169, explaining why they hadn't rallied in Middletown before. “But we wanted to take it to their corporate front door.”

        The rally featured short speeches by labor leaders, including Leo Gerard, USWA international union president, and Bill Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO. Grills were fired up, and free food was offered. Cans were set out for donations.

        Alan McCoy, AK vice president of public affairs, said that the workers were locked out of the Mansfield plant by Armco Steel 30 days before AK acquired Armco at the end of September 1999.

        “Armco chose to lock them out because in the months preceding the expiration of the contract (Sept. 1), negotiations had faltered, management had experienced work slowdowns, sabotage and personal threats to management,” said Mr. McCoy.

        He said the plant is operating with 250 temporary replacement workers.

        “Obviously, everybody is frustrated and still confused (by the lockout),” said Mark Robertson, Local 169 president. “But we're sticking together well. I'm optimistic we'll be here when this thing gets settled.”

        Mr. Metz said he has enjoyed working at the Mansfield plant. “There's something about dumping coal scrap into a furnace and watching it melt down and pour out the other end,” he said. “It's a hot, dirty, noisy job, but I wouldn't trade it.”

        On the other hand, he said, he has been able to spend more time with his family and two young sons, helping with homework.


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