Sparrows Point Steel Mill Shuts Down Suddenly

… Workers told they are laid off indefinitely …

By Andrea K. Walker, The Baltimore Sun

6:35 PM EST, December 23, 2011

Sparrows Point has shut down steelmaking operations as the Baltimore County plant struggles to pay its bills and win back customers, workers said Friday.

RG Steel spokesman Bette Kovach did not return several calls confirming shuttering of the mill, which employs more than 2,200 workers.

But analysts and workers said that managers began meeting with employees Thursday to tell them not to report to work next week.

It is unclear how much of the plant will be shut down. The workers, who didn’t want their names used in fear of retribution, said that the entire plant would be shutdown, including the tin, hot and cold mills. Also idled will be the blast furnace, which is used to extract and melt iron and is a primary part of the operation.

The workers said managers gave little detail about the length of the shutdown, describing it as “indefinite.”

Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. said a friend who works at the plant called Tuesday to tell him he had been laid off.

“It is a temporary layoff, but who knows what temporary means,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski had been hearing from worried workers all week that RG Steel will close down the cold mill and steel operations next week, leaving only a maintenance crew working.

Workers said they had also been given little information from the local union.

Chris MacLarion, acting president of United Steelworkers Local 9477, which represents workers at the Baltimore County steel mill, said the union would have no comment about the layoffs. He told employees in an e-mail not to speak to the media.

It’s not unusual for Sparrows Point to shut down for a few weeks around the holidays. The long-struggling steel mill was also shut down much longer by its previous owner, mothballed from July 2010 until just before the Renco Group — RG Steel’s parent — took over in March.

Olszewski said the signs do not seem to point to a typical holiday shutdown. In past years, contractors were being paid. Now the bills are stacking up.

“I think it’s different from past years, and it’s a shame,” he said. “It’s right around Christmastime.”

Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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