Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 23, 2013

Workers to AK: Give us what you promised

Picketers protest hiring of out-of-state help

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — After working many years to keep AK Steel’s Ashland Works coke plant up and running, local union members are trying to get a few more months of employment helping to tear the place down and clean up the property.

Mark Johnson of the Tri-State Building and Construction Trades Council said AK Steel made written promises to local workers for the demolition-related jobs, and later acknowledged a mistake had been made, although all work at the former coke production plant continues to be performed by out-of-state contractors.

“Our message is that we want to work with AK Steel,” Johnson said. “Our message is, local jobs for local workers ... and that helps local businesses. We’ve got local contractors needing work in the worst way. They are more than capable of doing the job, and ... we’ve been patient with AK. I don’t know what else we can do.”

In response to the situation, Johnson said local labor union members started an informational picket at the U.S. 23 entrance of the former coke plant.

“We are not trying to prevent any workers from crossing the line or anything like that. We just want to get jobs for people who are not working.”

Dale Tabor of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 181 said the coke plant demolition is work which local employees and their families have invested themselves in.

“We took care of that plant for them and they made money. We dealt with the pollution and problems around that area,” Tabor said. “Now that they are done with us they want to turn their back and move on. Well, we didn’t turn our backs on them. They shouldn’t turn their backs on us.”

Johnson, along with Tabor and Bill Oney of Laborers’ International Union of North America, shared a letter signed by AK Steel General Manager Darren Callihan that confirms their standing on the coke plant demolition work. The March 5 letter says, “AK Steel has indicated in previous communication that the non-signatory demolition work that was contracted at our non-operational coke plant at our Ashland Works was an oversite by AK Steel. There was a belief that any work performed at a non-operational facility did not fall under the existing NMA (National Maintenance Agreement) ... and this obviously was not the case.”

The letter goes on to say AK Steel representatives have met with “local building trades” about the issue and “to communicate our position along with trying to find ways to contract union laborers for the work without increasing our costs for the job which we have been unable to do yet.” The letter concludes AK Steel intends to “adhere to the existing rules of the NMA and perform work with approved contractors.”

The NMA mentioned in the letter is nothing new to local workers associated with either of AK Steel’s local operations, Johnson said.

“We have been working under the NMA since I’ve been around,” he said.

Tabor later explained the NMA means “basically that we take reduced pay so they’ll work with us. We reduced our wages for years so this would not happen.”

“Work for the people in this area ... that’s what we want,” Oney said. “Work done the right way — safe and by the law.”

The union members said the ongoing work at the coke-plant property is “the easy money work” removing large metal components for scrap and recycling. When the majority of the easily accessible metal has been hauled away, however, much environmentally mandated cleanup work will remain to be completed.

“A lot of what will be left will be jobs most people would not want,” Johnson observed.

The cleanup aspect of the project, which Oney and Tabor anticipate will be be ready to begin by July, will create jobs for 30 to 40,  “or probably more.” Cleanup tasks at the site will range from jobs for heavy-equipment operators and landfill operations to asbestos abatement, the men said.

A spokesman for AK Steel declined to comment.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.