EAST CHICAGO | Citing an "extraordinary economic environment," ArcelorMittal said Wednesday it planned to indefinitely lay off 978 employees at its Indiana Harbor facilities.
The company said it alerted the United Steelworkers and other stakeholders of the action Tuesday in accordance with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
A letter from the company posted on USW Local 1011's Web site said the layoff would be temporary and for an indefinite period of time. The layoffs would be made during a 14-day period starting July 12. USW Local 1011 represents about 1,440 employees at Indiana Harbor West, Local 1011 President Tom Tyrka said.
ArcelorMittal will idle iron-producing operations at Indiana Harbor West until market conditions improve. Iron production will remain at Indiana Harbor East's No. 7 blast furnace, according to a statement from ArcelorMittal's U.S. headquarters in Chicago.
Tyrka said about 750 employees would be affected because of the idling of the No. 4 blast furnace. The No. 3 blast furnace already was down, USW District 7 Director Jim Robinson said.
"We've got a lot of calls (and dealt with) a lot of rumors," Tyrka said of employees talking about the announcement.
United Steelworkers Local 1010 President Tom Hargrove said the layoffs mostly will affect employees at Indiana Harbor West, but information will be passed out at the plant gate this morning to alert them of the situation. Local 1010 represents more than half of Indiana Harbor East employees. Hargrove said some Indiana Harbor East operations would be idled this summer unless orders for steel pick up, but it's unknown if the temporary shutdowns would result in layoffs.
"Until we start building things in this country, and we start putting people to work, it's going to get worse," Hargrove said. He said it's important the country focus on maintaining its manufacturing presence instead of becoming solely a consumer nation.
Robinson said it's important to note that under the current contract, the company and union will begin negotiating a layoff minimization plan. Robinson said there is no timeline mandating when the negotiation process must be complete.
Tyrka said he anticipates meetings with the steelmaker would begin Friday.
In November, ArcelorMittal said as many as 2,444 employees at its Burns Harbor facility could be laid off by January. After negotiations, no employees were involuntarily laid off and the number of voluntary layoffs was less than 500. Robinson said the past results can't predict how many jobs could be saved in East Chicago.
Union officials expect each employee to receive a letter from the company about the WARN filing.
Tyrka encouraged plant workers to stick together through the turbulent times and remember that safety in the workplace is a high priority, even though the layoff may be weighing on their minds.
ArcelorMittal is maintaining temporary global production cuts at a level of about 45 percent, as announced April 29. ArcelorMittal Chief Financial Officer Aditya Mittal said in the company's 2008 annual report, the steelmaker plans to increase steel production once customers' inventories run low.
"This was a difficult decision to make, but the company is being forced to respond to the extraordinary economic environment we are facing," said Katie Patterson, spokeswoman for the company. "We will be carefully monitoring the situation, and we look forward to many of our employees returning to work as soon as it is warranted by market conditions.
"This development is in no way a reflection on the professionalism and dedication of our Indiana Harbor employees."