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Union rally protests AK Steel management

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

By Len Barcousky, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Union workers, retirees and supporters filled Butler's Diamond Park yesterday for a rally protesting management practices at AK Steel's Butler Works.

Jack Murtagh, legal counsel for the Butler Armco Independent Union, rails against the management of AK Steel at a rally that drew about 2,000 AK Steel workers and retirees at Diamond Square in Butler. At left is union president Jim Gallagher. (Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette)

The event was a first step in a public information campaign with two purposes, according to Jim Gallagher, president of the Butler Armco Independent Union. It was designed, first, to energize union members and, second, to inform politicians, business leaders and corporate board members about what Gallagher said are worsening personnel problems at the plant.

Armco Steel was merged into AK Steel three years ago.

Since that time, 60 workers have been fired, Gallagher said. That number almost matches the 69 discharged under 39 years of Armco ownership, he said.

Armco suspended 145 workers over almost four decades. AK Steel already has suspended 224 workers, Gallagher said.

"Armco was an opponent but never the enemy," union lawyer Jack Murtagh said, describing his 25 years of negotiating with the former management. "With AK Steel we don't have an opponent, we have an enemy ... and it has laid siege to the entire community," he told the crowd.

A spokesman for AK Steel declined to comment on specific union complaints.

"The union has its political reason for doing what it does," said Alan McCoy, AK Steel's vice president for public affairs.

Butler County Commissioner Glenn Anderson estimated that about 2,000 people crowded into Diamond Park for the rally.

The Butler Armco Independent Union, or B.A.I.U., represents about 1,700 plant workers. Founded in 1933, it is not affiliated with the United Steelworkers or other large labor organizations.

"We have never had a strike," Gallagher reminded the crowd. "We've never engaged in an act of violence, in sabotage or a work slowdown. ... We want the highest possible wages, benefits and pensions, but we understand the need to remain competitive."

The event, held in the shadow of Butler County's 1894 war memorial, was combined with a Veterans Day commemoration.

Organizers also observed a moment of silence for steel worker Keith Eckenrode, 42, of Slippery Rock, who was killed Oct. 29 in an industrial accident at the AK Steel plant. Eckenrode was cleaning a machine on the plant's "weld-and-trim" line when it moved, crushing him. It was the first fatality at the plant in many years.

"Nobody should have to go to work worried about losing a job from one day to another," Anderson told the crowd. "It makes for a bad work environment and it hurts the family environment."

If there were union-management safety issues that needed to be resolved, Anderson offered to mediate.

Len Barcousky can be reached at lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.

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