U.S. Steel is indefinitely idling its coke-making operations in Hamilton as it restructures the company and looks for a potential buyer — part of what a union head calls a piece-by-piece dismantling of the plant.
The company is “hot idling” the coke battery, which means it won’t be used after Nov. 1 but will remain prepped for future use.
About 100 workers are affected, said Rolf Gerstenberger, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1005. Some will be reassigned to other duties, while others may be laid off.
“They need people in other parts of the plant,” Gerstenberger said. “They might take a few temporarily to Lake Erie. Near the end of the week, we’ll start having meetings about where people will be employed.”
It’s just the latest move in a major Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) restructuring. The company sought bankruptcy protection in September, citing years of losses. A superior court judge approved an $185-million loan from U.S. Steel Corp, the American parent company, to get it through the next year.
Documents filed with the bankruptcy court state that U.S. Steel Canada plans to sell its Hamilton and Nanticoke plants by next October.
In an email to employees, president Michael McQuade of U.S. Steel Canada said the coke battery will be idled for “a period of time” while the chief restructuring officer considers other options, including the potential sale.
“While the decision is a difficult one, it is the appropriate next step as part of the CCAA restructuring process.”
U.S. Steel has sold coke to ArcelorMittal Dofasco, which is now getting coke trucked from plant in Pennsyvlania.
The company has enough coke right now to supply its Lake Erie Steel plant until April, Gerstenberger said.
Gerstenberger calls the move “part of the wrecking.”
“It’s the same as them shutting down the steel-making operation,” he said, referring to a late 2013 decision to shutter the Hamilton blast furnace. “They make decisions based on their narrow interest.”
The local union reached a three-year contract with the company last week.