Sunday, September 5, 2004

AK Steel cancels weekend festivities



By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer

MIDDLETOWN - AK Steel workers - and the rest of the community - won't be celebrating this Labor Day with free concerts or fireworks outside company headquarters.

The city's biggest employer has canceled its annual free party because of a budget cut. A celebration had been held every year since the plant's centennial in 2000.

"Clearly, the key component of our road to sustained profitability is reducing discretionary spending," said Alan McCoy, AK vice president for government and public relations.

Four years ago, AK threw a huge celebration between Verity Parkway (Ohio 4) and Curtis Street, site of the original American Rolling Mill Co. mill. Thousands of residents toured the plant and watched free concerts and fireworks.

In 2001, the company sponsored a classic car show, concert and fireworks.

The Oak Ridge Boys played a free concert last year, followed by the Middletown Symphony Orchestra and fireworks. McCoy declined to say how much the Labor Day festivities cost.

"They were really nice celebrations enjoyed by a lot of people," said Carl Wiese, retired from AK after 32 years. "But I can't blame them for canceling it because of the money situation. They're like everybody else: You've got to cut back someplace."

Although AK posted its largest operating profit - $56.4 million - in nearly two years in July, the steel maker had lost about $1 billion in the three previous years.

Labor Day also will arrive with fewer area residents employed at AK, which announced 69 layoffs in August after cutting 200 jobs last fall. AK now has about 3,500 workers in Middletown, McCoy said.

CEO James Wainscott said in July the company needs to reduce its hourly work force by 20 percent to stay competitive. The union representing about 3,000 hourly employees at Middletown has refused to re-open contract talks.

"Job No. 1 is to get the company back to sustained levels of profitability. It makes all other things possible," McCoy said.

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com




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