Republic Technologies International Inc. said yesterday that it will close its specialty steel plant in Baltimore at the end of the year.
The plant employs eight managers and 92 hourly workers. Many of them will be offered jobs at the company's other facilities, most of which are in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"I was shocked," said Pam Willinger, president of the United Steelworkers' Local 3185. "You always hear rumors but you don't think it's going to happen."
Privately held Republic, based in Fairlawn, Ohio, has been trying for several years to sell the East Biddle Street plant, along with its other specialty division in Canton, Ohio. It was close to reaching an agreement with Haynes International Inc., but talks broke off earlier this year.
Republic officials said the Baltimore plant costs more to operate than it brings in.
"We had hoped we'd be able to find a way to make it at least cash neutral, but we couldn't come up with a plan to do that," said John A. Willoughby, Republic's vice president of human resources. "It was still a negative drain."
The plant, formerly known as Baltimore Specialty Steels, has been on shaky ground for years, even before Republic bought it from Armco Inc. five years ago.
900 workers in 1989
In 1995, the plant employed 40 people - down from 900 in 1989 - and had just moved into the black after losing tens of millions of dollars since 1980.
At the time of the sale, Republic was called Republic Engineered Steels Inc., but its name was changed in 1998 when it merged with Bar Tech Inc.
Willinger said the current contract, which was ratified in 1998, has an employment-security provision that guarantees full-time wages through October 2003.
She said it appears the provision would be in effect in the event of a plant closure, but said she would know more after a scheduled meeting today between the union and company officials.
Willoughby indicated that a plant closing was a special case. "There are certain things that come into play when a plant is declared shut down, separate and apart from employment security. ... It's something we have to talk to the union about, and it's all subject to negotiations and bargaining."
'Really good money'
Plant workers' wages range from $12.84 an hour to $17.31 an hour, plus incentive pay and medical, dental and eye-care benefits.
"It's really good money," she said. "It's going to be hard to find something like that again."
Republic has annual revenue of about $1.2 billion, Willoughby said. For the quarter that ended June 30, the company reported net sales of $346 million, and earnings before interest and other expenses of $22 million. The company does not disclose net income.
Unlike Bethlehem Steel, which employs about 4,000 at its Sparrows Point plant and makes cold- and hot-rolled steel, Republic produces steel bars that range in diameter from 1 inch to more than a foot and can be up to 30 feet long.
The specialty-steel divisions make stainless and vacuum-melted steel, which is sold for high-end uses such as aircraft landing gear.