The owner of the Sparrows Point steel mill has told state unemployment insurance officials that about 720 workers at the Baltimore County plant are being furloughed and are expected back on the job March 4.

Managers started telling workers last Thursday not to show up for work this week in what was described then as an "indefinite" layoff, plant employees told The Baltimore Sun.

The plant's owner, RG Steel, did not give Maryland officials notice of the layoffs under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN. The federal law generally requires employers with 100 or more workers to give 60 days' notice to workers or their union as well as to the state's dislocated-workers unit.

Shannon Davis, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said the WARN act is federal law and the state agency can't enforce it. RG Steel's Sparrows Point spokesperson did not return calls for comment. The WARN act does provide some exceptions for employers.

The company in recent days, however, did submit a list with the names of about 720 people to be laid off to the state's division of unemployment insurance, Davis said. Workers who received a layoff notice were able to start filing for unemployment benefits Tuesday.

Maryland's unemployment insurance division set up a dedicated phone line — 410-853-1700 — to take the claims of Sparrows Point workers; it will operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, Davis said. Workers also can apply for benefits online at any time through the division's website.

Union officials could not be reached for comment. Davis said the union estimated that as many as 2,000 workers could be furloughed. The plant employs more than 2,200.

Renco Group, parent of RG Steel, purchased Sparrows Point from Russian steelmaker Severstal in March. Since then, RG Steel has faced several obstacles.

Severstal, for instance, had temporarily shut down Sparrows Point in 2010, and the new owners had difficulty luring back old customers after the plant reopened.

eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com

  • Text BUSINESS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun Business text alerts