Yorkville steelworkers accept contract

YORKVILLE- A record number of local steelworkers with ties to the Yorkville mill showed up Thursday at the local union hall to record their respective vote on a highly unique tentative contract, one which they ultimately passed by an overwhelming majority.

The historic mill will reopen to production and will be known as the Ohio Cold Rolling Co.

There were 252 steelworkers eligible to personally take part in the voting process that lasted from early in the morning until 5 p.m.

The vote count revealed an 87 percent turnout by the full membership, with 218 recorded votes having been cast.

Of that number, 194 USW members voted to approve the tentative contract, reflecting 81 percent the total 218 ballots cast Thursday by members of the United Steelworkers Union Local 1223 Yorkville.

The count also showed there were 24 votes cast against accepting the proposal.

A six-person committee oversaw the vote count at the end of the day Thursday, according to USW 1223 Yorkville’s President Jerry Conners.

The high number of participants who were personally able to come to the local union hall to record their secret ballot individually would have been even higher, but a number of the members could not get to the hall because of other commitments – generally because of the work hours for jobs they have been working for just a short amount of time.

The process is not set up to include any votes cast other than through the traditional paper ballot registered at the local hall during voting hours, according to Conners.

“The company we had worked for previously is gone. It doesn’t exist anymore here,” offered Conners shortly after the vote count was made known to the public Thursday.

“We are now known as the Ohio Cold Rolling Co.,” offered Conners. “The guys we have in the mill right now working on winterizing it are actually the first employees of the new company – the first of our membership to be covered by the newly ratified collective bargaining agreement. This is a new employment venture for our guys.”

The handful of USW members on the job in the mill currently are there strictly to winterize the operation to assure its preservation through the coming winter.

OCRC will be initially focusing efforts on the installation of a computer system that will bring the Yorkville mill onto the same realtime operational IT platform as are all other Esmark Steel Group facilities.

The installation of the IT system is expected to take 10 to 15 weeks.

Toward the conclusion of that process Conners expects local members who had been part of the previous employer’s maintenance department will be being called back to work, as steps are methodically taken to return the mill to operational status in anticipation of a late first quarter return to production.

Details of an individual’s qualifications, their physical fitness and seniority will all factor into the order in which the local steelworkers are asked to start the process to return them – individually – to work at the mill.

Conners noted this type of practice is not unique to the local, but is in fact an industry pattern.

The new four-year agreement has a two year re-opener clause, which is expected to coincide with the labor agreement timetable at the nearby Ohio Coatings Company.

Yorkville is expected to be a consistent supplier of steel to the nearby tin-coating mill. A relationship expected to benefit both facilities in the near and longterm and to meet with high approval from OCC’s customer base, as the Yorkville mill has a strong reputation for providing its customers with top quality materials to work with as they move the steel through their value-added aspect of the process.

The Esmark Steel Group now not only owns the mill in Yorkville, but is a partner in the tinplating operation at OCC.

Both steel operations have a place in the industry’s history.

Yorkville having been the birthplace of the cold rolling process, and OCC having had the distinction at its opening 17 years ago of been the first mill of its type opened in the US in more than 30 years.

James P. Bouchard, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Esmark Inc., applauded the ratification vote shortly after it was announced Thursday.

“We’re very pleased that after months of negotiations the union members found the contract offer to provide for a strong wage, benefits and profit sharing package. We thank them for their patience during the negotiation process, and also extend our thanks to USW District 1 Director Dave McCall and Local 1223 President Jerry Conners for their continued support and collaboration.”

Esmark Steel Group Chief Executive Officer Tom Modrowski said some of the key economic provisions of the four-year collective bargaining agreement include wage increases over the term of the four-year agreement, comprehensive healthcare for workers and their families, financial contributions to the Steelworker Pension Fund, and participation in a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA) Trust providing healthcare benefits for retired union workers.

Modrowski also noted Esmark’s plans for Yorkville were delayed due to concerns over environmental liabilities.

Those liabilities became the subject of a dispute between RG Steel and Esmark, with the latter saying that RG Steel had failed to disclose relevant environmental violations during the due diligence period of the sale, according to a recent article in American Metal Market.

RG Steel subsequently agreed to pay $190,000 to Ohio from the proceeds of the Yorkville sale, according to a Nov. 21 consent order agreement.

Esmark Inc. is a diversified, privately-held family company with a portfolio of industrial companies with strong roots in the steel industry.

Over the years, Esmark has diversified its interests and operations into a number of businesses engaged in the industrial and commodity sectors. Esmark (a former publicly traded company on NASDAQ: ESMK) has focused on several key industries including steel services, oil and gas exploration, aviation, real estate, business services, technology and sports management.

Esmark Steel Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Esmark, Inc., is one of the nation’s largest value-added processors and distributors of flat-rolled steel products, SBQ bar products and tin plate products, and provides just-in-time logistics and transportation services to a wide range of customers and industries across the country.