AK officially locks out union

More than 2,600 hourly workers will be replaced; contract talks ongoing

By Thomas Gnau
Cox News Service

AK Steel Corp. locked out its largest union, putting its largest plant in the hands of salaried and replacement workers, the president of Armco Employees Independent Federation said this morning.

"The company officially announced that we were locked out," Brian Daley, president of the AEIF, said while standing in the back of a pickup in front of AEIF headquarters on Crawford Street.

He said union negotiators offered an extension under current contract terms, but company representatives "expressly" refused that option.

However, Daley also said that both parties agreed that talks are ongoing. Another meeting could happen as early as today, he said.

"Now is the time to really watch your behavior," Daley told hundreds of AEIF members gathered outside the union hall minutes after returning from talks at the Manchester Inn and Conference Center.

Talks reached the final minutes of the current AK-AEIF contract, which expired at midnight Tuesday. An AK spokesman could not be reached.

At contention on one side was AK's ability to compete in a global marketplace that had dramatically shifted in the six years since the current agreement was approved.

On the other side: the wages, benefits and living standards for the AEIF's more than 2,600 members.

On Feb. 17 and 18, AEIF members voted 2,368 to 56 to authorize their executive committee to call a strike at or after 12:01 a.m. today.

"I've seen nothing like this," said Robbie Childers, 37, an AEIF member and 15-year AK worker.

"It's never been this way. It's not 'if' you're going to get fired, it's 'when' you're going to get fired," Childers said.

Mike Keeton, 35, an 11-year AK worker, wanted to know why leaders of AK were determined to cut workers who had helped the company reach record shipments of 6.4 million tons in 2005. AK reported a net loss of $2.3 million last year.

"It's just never enough," Keeton said.

Ray McNabb, a 29-year AK worker, said some supervisors were taking work vehicles keys from union members. On Tuesday afternoon, he didn't know what the future would bring, but he said most people wanted to return to their jobs, if possible.

"Hell, I want to punch in at six o'clock in the morning," McNabb said.