More than 200 Steelworkers rallied yesterday to urge Bethlehem Steel Corp. to build a new multimillion dollar cold-rolling mill at the company's Sparrows Point plant, an investment that would save about 400 jobs at the Baltimore County plant.
"The importance here is jobs," said Larry Farinetti Jr., a 33-year-old maintenance technician whose father also works at the plant. "Bethlehem Steel basically raised me. This mill would keep us viable as a steel producer for years."
As workers gathered at United Steelworkers of America halls along Dundalk Avenue, union leaders and public officials expressed confidence about prospects for Sparrows Point.
A state official who insisted on anonymity described Gov. Parris N. Glendening and state economic development officials as "cautiously optimistic."
Officials from the state and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. are working on a combined $10 million package of incentives to entice Bethlehem to build here, according to another source.
BGE officials could not be reached last night to comment on the alleged package for Bethlehem, the utility's largest customer.
Union officials have said the plant would cost about $300 million. Bethlehem has not released an estimate. Workers said they expected a decision by the company's board as early as next week. Bethlehem declined to comment yesterday.
The company said in April that it was considering building a new cold-rolling mill at Sparrows Point or at another site. Competing sites include locations in West Virginia and Virginia.
In an attempt to get the mill, the United Steelworkers union agreed to changes in work practices throughout the plant that would save the company $130 million a year at Sparrows Point.
"This really represents the future of the plant," Joseph J. Rosel Jr., president of United Steelworkers Local 4727, told the rally. "This cold mill will set us up for the next 20 years."
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If built, the mill would replace an outdated cold-rolling mill that accounts for 800 of Bethlehem's 5,300 Sparrows Point workers; a decision to build the mill elsewhere would eliminate those jobs.
But because of more advanced technology, the new mill would require substantially fewer workers -- between 400 and 450 workers.
Union officials said the resulting 400 job cuts could be achieved by not replacing Sparrows Point workers who retire while the mill's being built. No layoffs would be necessary, they say.
A Steelworkers official who insisted on anonymity said union leaders had agreed to work rule changes that it had rejected in years past. But he said the union had made no wage and benefit concessions.
The official also said that if Bethlehem chooses Sparrows Point, it will take more than two years to get the cold mill up and running.
Delmar Harrod, a furnace operator with 32 years at Sparrows Point, said he's seen the plant go from about 30,000 workers to a few more than 5,000 workers. The prospect of losing hundreds more bothers him.
Pub Date: 10/22/97