Glendening, Sarbanes ask for mill Governor, senator lobby for new facility at Sparrows Point

Bethlehem Steel's decision

800 Md. jobs likely at stake

W. Virginia, Virginia competing

October 14, 1997|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes traveled yesterday to Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Pennsylvania headquarters to lobby the steel company to locate a new cold-rolling mill at its Sparrows Point plant.

Maryland's governor and its senior U.S. senator are trying to persuade Bethlehem not to build the mill out of state, which would likely lead to the elimination of 800 jobs at Sparrows Point.

State and company officials would not disclose details of the private meeting involving the two top Democrats and Bethlehem's top officials, including chief executive Curtis H. Barnette.

"They are obviously going through some tough decision making on future investments in Sparrows Point," Glendening said last night. "We are simply working closely with them, giving them as much information as possible about Maryland. It was a very good, productive trip."

In a statement, Bethlehem said only that the company "had met today with Gov. Glendening and Sen. Sarbanes as part of ongoing discussions which the parties have had concerning the Sparrows Point division. We very much appreciate their interest and support."

Sarbanes couldn't be reached for comment.

Bethlehem is said to be considering locations in Virginia and West Virginia. It has said that its decision would be based on the potential profitability of the entire Sparrows Point plant -- not just the cold-rolling mill.

A United Steelworkers of America official who insisted on anonymity said union leaders have agreed to a plan that would reach Bethlehem's target of saving $130 million a year at Sparrows Point. Still under discussion are staffing levels at a new plant.

The official also said workers expect Bethlehem's board to make a decision by the end of the month.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican whose district includes Bethlehem's Sparrows Point plant, said he has discussed the mill with Barnette since May. "In my view, Sparrows Point is the only logical choice for such an investment," Ehrlich said. "It offers a highly skilled, motivated work force. It is also ideally located -- immediately next to the plant where the raw steel is manufactured."

Cold-rolling reduces the thickness of hot-rolled steel sheet and improves the surface finish and texture. Once coated, cold-rolled sheet is one of the industry's most profitable products.

If built, the mill would replace an outdated cold-rolling mill that accounts for 800 of Bethlehem's 5,300 steel workers at Sparrows Point. Union officials have said that advanced technology means the new mill would require fewer than 500 workers.

That means that a decision to build the plant at Sparrows Point would likely eliminate more than 300 jobs. Union officials have said those cuts could be achieved without layoffs, by not replacing Sparrows Point workers who retire during the two years that it will take to build the mill. But if the mill goes elsewhere, Sparrows Point will lose 800 jobs, driving employment down to about 4,500.

Joseph J. Rosel Jr., president of United Steelworkers Local 4727, applauded the meeting, saying, "It's a positive sign that the highest-ranking government officials in the state are meeting with Bethlehem's chief executive officer."

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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