Late last week, the United Steelworkers union was telling area politicians that the successful bidder of the Sparrows Point steel mill had agreed to keep the workforce on health and supplemental unemployment benefits for the next six months.
Today, Local 9477 President Joe Rosel revealed that, in fact, the 1,600 laid-off steelworkers face the loss of all health, supplemental unemployment and life insurance benefits in the very near future.
While Hilco Industrial, the successful bidder, intends to preserve the “core assets” of the Baltimore steel mill for at least six months, it has made no promises to pay – or retain – the workforce, said Rosel in a letter issued today on the local’s Facebook page.
The sale of the mill to Hilco and a St. Louis property developer is expected to be approved tomorrow (August 15) at a hearing before U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Carey.
Rosel said the union “is trying to negotiate very short extensions of the benefit programs,” but that the current owner of the mill, RG Steel, is “under pressure” by its bank creditors to ask the judge to immediately end all employee benefits.
(Apparently, employee health insurance is prepaid through August 31.)
Once the mill is sold to Hilco, RG Steel Sparrows Point will end as a company, and the union would have to negotiate a new labor contract with Hilco
No Need for Steelworkers?
A Chicago-based liquidating and industrial auction company, Hilco has indicated that it does not plan to operate Sparrows Point as a steel mill, hence it is questionable whether it would need more than a minimal number of steelworkers to maintain and protect the mill’s assets.
Its partner, Environmental Liability Transfer Inc. of St. Louis, remediates industrial brownfield sites.
Rosel wrote that he and chief USW negotiator David McCall “will reach out to Hilco later this week after the hearing regarding the sale approval.” He reiterated his earlier vow to find “the right owner for Sparrows Point” that will operate the plant as an ongoing concern and recall the idled force of steelworkers.
Underscoring the union’s connection to Maryland Democratic officeholders, including Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Rosel said the USW “will continue to work with local and state government officials and agencies to assist in our endeavors.”
“In the meantime,” he concluded, “we would be remiss not to warn you, our members, to prepare for the worst even as we hope for the best.”