Tuesday, June 15, 2004

AK Steel workers OK new contract

Health care axed for retirees of plant in Indiana

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Middletown-based AK Steel, which says it needs to revise agreements with all its unions to stay competitive, said Monday it obtained a new three-year contract with the United Auto Workers, representing 160 employees at its Rockport, Ind., finishing mill.

The agreement approved Friday by union members is the second new agreement the Middletown-based steel maker has worked out with the UAW.

In April, AK, which lost more than $1 billion over the last three years but reported improved results in the first quarter, signed a similar three-year agreement with the UAW representing 460 employees of its Coshocton, Ohio, mill.

"Clearly, this is an agreement that recognizes AK Steel's need for more competitive labor costs, and we again commend the leadership and members of the UAW at Rockport Works for taking positive steps to assist in our return to sustainable profitability," said James L. Wainscott, AK president and CEO.

Wainscott has said the company needs similar agreements with unions at all seven of its plants.

Wainscott, who has said the company has a $30-a-ton disadvantage to its competitors because of higher retiree pensions and health-care costs, says the company needs the help of its unions to stay competitive.

AK has been holding private talks with unions at all of its plants and provided them with confidential financial information to buttress its case.

Last week, members and retirees of the Armco Independent Organization, which represents hourly employees at AK's Zanesville, Ohio, mill met to discuss details of an audit of the steel maker done by a business consultant.

Spokesmen for the unions at AK's Middletown and Ashland, Ky., mills couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

The new agreement for the Rockport workers eliminates health care benefits for retirees and increases the amount that active employees pay toward their health care benefits, the company said.

It also calls for a single job classification, to avoid restrictions on jobs that union workers may handle, and provides no guarantee of a minimum work force at the plant, the company said.

Under the new agreement, some employees will receive an initial base wage increase. The contract contains no other increases for base wages. Employees will receive a ratification payment and two annual lump-sum payments over the span of the contract, which extends to Sept. 30, 2007.

Shares in AK Steel closed at $4.43, down 10 cents.


The Associated Press contributed. E-mail mboyer@enquirer.com

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