What’s happening at Sparrows Point? Nobody seems to know

sparrows_point_COLD MILL

Very little of the Point’s giant steel-processing equipment is working today.

Photo by: Severstal NA

The only thing certain about the future of Baltimore’s biggest industrial facility is uncertainty.

About 2,000 employees (1,200 on layoff) are nervously waiting to hear the fate of the mostly-idled Sparrows Point steel mill. Will it be sold? Will it be closed? Will more people be laid off?

Nobody in an official capacity is saying much of anything.

This includes Russian-based owner Severstal (see Q&A with its spokesperson below), the United Steelworkers union (USW), and the four groups identified as bidders for the plant.

“People are really upset that the union is keeping us in the dark,” said one laid-off steelworker, citing the “invisibility” of David McCall, who represents the USW in the talks. A union representative countered that McCall is under a confidentiality agreement not to discuss a possible sale.

In place of facts are rumors, none of which can be verified. Among them: Argentina-based Ternium will – or will not – purchase Sparrows Point, the mill has already been sold, Severstal will force Sparrows into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, raw materials are coming for a restart of operations, Sparrows will be idled indefinitely.

One verifiable fact is that Severstal has placed “L” furnace and other equipment in “asset protection mode,” making any future resumption of steelmaking a tedious and costly process.

“We Feel Neglected”

John Cirri, president of USW Local 9477 Sparrows Point, told members in an e-mail Wednesday that he had no information on what he termed the “pending sale” of the mill. Attempts to reach Cirri to clarify his statement were unsuccessful.

Last month, sources told The Brew that Ternium’s bid had stalled. For one thing, the bid was viewed unfavorably by the international USW because the Argentine company did not agree to buy two other Severstal mills represented by the union. There were also reported disputes over an iron ore contract signed by Severstal and severance payments demanded by the union for unemployed steelworkers.

McCall wants Sparrows Point sold as a package with Severstal Warren and Severstal Wheeling, two Ohio-based mills. His position has caused a running dispute between the international and Local 9477, which would like to see Sparrows sold separately if better terms could be negotiated.

A number of local unionists believe that McCall instinctively favors the Warren and Wheeling mills as USW District Director of Ohio.

Sparrows Point is represented on the national level by Billy Thompson, who is headquartered in Frankfort, Ky. He has not played a discernible role in the possible sale and has left matters in the hands of two staff members, Jim Strong and Frank Rossi, Jr.

“We feel neglected by Thompson and screwed by McCall,” says a source in Local 9477.

McCall did not respond to a message left at his Columbus, Ohio, office. Thompson referred all questions to Frank Rossi, who was out yesterday and unavailable.

USW's Dave McCall (left) and Billy Thompson. CREDIT: USW

Other Bidders

There are three other identified bidders for Sparrows and the two other Severstal properties.

They are New York holding company Renco Group; Ukraine mining conglomerate MetinvestHolding with Optima Management; and Los Angeles-based Aurora Capital.  The financier behind Renco, Ira Rennert, owned the Warren mill until it declared bankruptcy in 2003 and was sold to Severstal.

Severstal’s spokesperson Marika Diamond declined to describe the status of the bids except to say that Severstal is “exploring strategic alternatives for certain of its assets” and will “provide updates when appropriate.”

Severstal has previously said it expects to keep the steelmaking furnaces idled at Sparrows Point until market conditions improve. The furnaces have been shut since late July, and many of the finishing operations run irregularly, if at all.

Severstal continues to own a non-union mill at Columbus, Miss., and make steel at Dearborn, Mich., whose workforce is represented by the United Autoworkers (UAW).

Customers Taking Orders Elsewhere

Many Sparrows employees have placed their hopes in Ternium, which flew officials to the mill in November and early December and outlined plans to return Sparrows to full production.

Ternium expressed interest in supplying its booming South American markets with tinplate processed by the mill.

At present, tinplate is the only department running regularly. The department makes substrate for tin cans and other metal containers and is the biggest such facility in the Northeast.

But the department is losing orders as buyers fret about its future and are transferring business to U.S. Steel, ArcelorMittal and other competing companies.

“There isn’t much left to Sparrows Point as far as customers are concerned,” said a source knowledgeable of sales.


Q&A with Marika Diamond, Severstal spokesperson

Do you have any updates as to the status (or progress) of the sale of Sparrows Point by Severstal?

Severstal remains committed to the North American market. As previously disclosed, the Company has been exploring strategic alternatives for certain of its assets. At this time the strategic review is ongoing and we cannot comment further. We will, however, provide updates when appropriate.

Is the steel side still expected to be idled through the 1st quarter of 2011 or has there been a change in status?

As previously announced, the primary operations at the company’s Sparrows Point facility will remain idled until there is an improvement in market conditions to warrant their restart.

Can you provide a number, or estimate, of employees currently on layoff at the steel mill?

The current numbers are in line with the WARN notices issued in November 2010.

Reach Mark Reutter at

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  • Fernando Vargas

    The soap opera at Sparrows continues: “As the Point turns………”

    • forrest

      or “days of our lives at the point”

  • Guest

    It is tragic what is happening here due to the incompetence of Severstal and the local management led by David Howard. Instead of helping, the USW International is hindering the process to the determinent of all workers. We need to get the Point sold quickly before all the customers have gone to the non-union mill and Dearborn (UAW) mill and to other steel companies.

    • Seecatlove

      Because all of this died with Bethlehem in 2003, she just hasn’t been buried

  • burt

    I can’t imagine the complete closure of the steel mill at sparrows and the trickle effect it would have on the whole eastern seaboard not just the baltimore metro area. Many businesses and suppliers would close up shop. Why haven’t we heard from our political leaders about the pending doom and what are they doing to help?

  • Hillbillyracer

    Dave McCall needs to look at the history of International Harvester ( Tractor and truck division). The union was to smart for their own good! The union butted heads with the company for so long that the company finally gave in. A week later the workers showed up to find padlocks on the doors, Out off business due to no money and customers going elsewere. Glad to see unions haven’t changed much!

    • Unionstinks

      Dave McCall is only interested in helping the members of Ohio Valley. He could care less about sparrows point

  • Zlot

    So why isn’t anyone doing anything to get rid of McCall, who’s managed to screw the rank-and-file even prior to this in recommending Esmark over CSN?
    Steubenville, OHIO

  • sap

    we need to go Columbus,Ohio and tell Mr. McCall let us know whats going on shut mills down or run them two years is long enough with the russian almost three years without a contract

  • Point Electrician

    2 and a half years without a contract. When will this be sent to a federal arbitrator. The company or this union is not negotiating in good faith.Maybe we need to withhold our union dues till we get prpoer representation

  • Mlee3980

    This is what you get when you let some selfcentered and greedy person enter into the american steel industry.

  • Lady of Steel

    The economy is on a down turn, with the way things look, right now. There are a lot of other industries that are suffering. Anybody, who listens to the news and the stock markets, know that the Chinese and the Russians are banding together to drive the American dollar down! All this b.s. at the point is taking it’s toll on all of us. We don’t know if it’s the company, or the union. One certain thing for sure, the international hasn’t made things any better for us at Sparrows Pt., let alone the politicians. Some of the workers, that I work with are starting to develop health issues, from all this uncertainty! I don’t think the government could care less, about what is going on. They have their cushy pay, their cushy benefits. The hell with us, workers. We’re consider lower middle class. As long as we pay taxes, is all they’re worried about. The same with the union, as long as we pay our dues, the union could care less. The only reason why John Cirri, supplied us with his e-mail, was because he’s been pressured by us workers, not knowing what is going on! Yeah, I’m for withholding my union dues, having them put into “escrow”, but it’s useless. The s.o.b.s are federally mandated into the real estate, here at Sparrows Pt.. The thing is, that we are all being violated, there has to be a solution. I don’t think the Russian has a clue, of what to do, because the economy is in a slump.

    • Jcirri

      Dear Lady of Supply, I mean Steel, Thanks for pressuring me into putting out over 600 communications over the last 5 years. Keep up the good work!

      • Tinmillman

        Instead of beating up on your members, why don’t you as Local Union President stand up for your members at Sparrows Point and insist on being part of the negotiating team that McCall talks about. You idlly sit back and let McCall but the screws to the people that work at the plant… the same thing that you did when McCall was going to allow the plant to be sold to Esmark. You take all the perks for yourself and your family and sell the rest of us down the river!!!! I’m glad people are seeing you for what you are.

        • Ironmaking

          Your comments are unfounded and make no sense. JCirri is the best president we have had in a long time. I wish I was able to meet the Tinmillman so I could tell you to your face that you are a idiot! Times are hard everywhere and be glad your mill is still operating, if you are not happy you can apply for a FLO. Thanks to john you have that option.

          • Tinmillman

            Is FLO the best that you can do? Thanks so much john for all that you have done. Let’s See what you have done in the last three years. Negotiated a contract that has never been resloved. Never in the history of the plant has the blast furnace been shutdown. The only department running is the Tin mill. You always want to blame the economy for everything, but the facts are that Dearborne (UAW) and Columbus (non-union) are running at 100 % capacity. Mr Ironmaking you must either want to bury you head in the sand or up Cirri’s a**. If you think he has been a good president you and him both need HELP. I’m glad the member sees it differently. I know that you are the kind of person that doesn’t think people have a right to an opinion or that people must believ the way that you want them to believe. Thank God for America.

          • URADUMMY


      • Lady of Steel

        Mr. Cirri, I was only referring to the last e-mail, that you supplied us, the rank and file. It’s been so long, with all this silence that everyone who comes to supply to vent, or seeking some rumor. I’m against the rumors, as they are not true. I didn’t individually pressure you. You must be incoherent, of what you read of my comment. I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I know what I said. And what you stated isn’t what I commented. All of this is taking it’s toll on everyone. I feel like a psychiatrist or a priest, just listening to all walks of life who come by the window. It is really sad.

        • uswa42

          This is really sad – they have us all fighting amongst ourselves – this is just what they want. A Union is only as good as their members and right now, I’m embarrased.

          • Bogus

            Who is “they”?

          • uswa42

            The people with the money and their puppets – you know the ones that used to wear the white hats. Holding Companies, etc. etc. Don’t play stupid with me.

      • Ironman

        I think since we have about one thousand people laid off we should march to congress to let everybody here our pain, we need the government to help us get through this, we need to try something?? we are laid off with nothing else to do.
        Trust me I’m one of your Friends

  • Observer

    I get to watch the faces of the workers as they enter and exit the mill and for the past year now they’ve been nothing but grim. I ask the guys in the morning if they’ve heard any news. Some chuckle and shrug, others grimace. No one knows anything and I think that is more of a morale killer than layoffs or shutdowns. An uncertain future does little for the mood at the dinner table.

  • HS

    Didn’t you clowns learn anything during the last sale? When CSN (has iron ore) was pushed out by Esmark (had debt), I would have thought the light bulb went off. Now that its happened again, you people seriously need to question whose interest the international is looking out for. So long as WCI is the albatross hung around Sparrows Point’s neck, you’ll draw nothing but idiots like Severstal.

  • sparrownut

    The reason why politicians, union officials, and the company are silent is because the union members are silent. The older people are working and content and the laid-off people are content to collect unempoyment, sub and health insurance. When all that is cut off then you will hear something. And as far as how these mills are sold, why is it what “McCall wants”? Maybe he should let the different plants decide who buys them.

    • Lady of Steel

      Some of the older people are laid off, from the Primary side. Why this is, I don’t understand myself. I know one thing, some of the older workers who are working in the Tin Mill, is not content! A lot of us would love to see everyone working, and that’s how it is. All of this uncertainty is taking it’s toll on everyone, young and old. I work with a guy who doesn’t believe in doctors. He had to go to one, for anti-depressants, because, he couldn’t sleep at night, he kept waking up with an upset stomach, from all this mess down here at Sparrows Pt.. This guy is in his 60’s, with 37 yrs. of service. Yeah, we older workers have been through a lot the first 5-10 yrs. at Sparrows Pt. We were all lucky to work a year, with out getting laid off. And if you think that we older workers are content with all this b.s., you are dead-wrong!

      • sparrownut

        Maybe I should have said “relatively content’. Sure, its one thing to say I want everyone back to work and I would rather be working than collecting, but that’s not enough. I’m including myself in this complacency. If all the laid-off steelworkers in the country would go to Washington and make some noise maybe we could get a some help. They gave away trillions in stimulus but not one dime our way. Steelworkers went to Washington in 2004 and things weren’t nearly as bad as they are now.

        • Lady of Steel

          The global economy is going amok right now. If you read the news, you’ll know that everything is in turmoil. Almost every state in the u.s.a., has been facing severe budget cuts. How would you like to be working for the Fire Dept. or the Police Dept., the city of Baltimore and other cities have cut their pay, by as much as 200 dollars a month. Some states, like Calif. and Mass. have even cut their hours. Our government is so screwed up, and this stimulus for these high financial institutions, is just crazy. I don’t think bailing them out is the answer. Right now, we the steel workers, manufacturers are like sheep, right along with all the Americans. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve read enough to know where we are going. I’ll bet you 10 dollars to donuts, that we’ll all be collecting unemployment. The situation that we are all in is really sad. I keep on reading and praying that there will be a solution. Spreading rumors at Sparrows Pt., isn’t going to make things any better. I tell everyone, today is today, and tomorrow, who knows. Not to worry, things will be what they’ll be.

    • Mike Carr

      Screw McCall!!!

      • Ironmaking

        Mike Carr?? what a nut. Of all people to complain about the union, you make us look bad when you sleep most of the time your at work, plus when you do answer the radio you don’t want to fix anything. Don’t worry your relief will get it, so you have no room to talk.
        God forbid if you or JR “Daub” ever held a union position you would have quit a long time ago.

        • Unity

          Mr Ironmaking, why are you bashing Mike Carr? Because you don’t like what he has to say? I didn’t hear you complain about your safety representative that was appointed by John Cirri that got fired for stealing time from the companythat was sitting home on his front porch while Ironmaking had a fatality and one of our union brothers lost his life. Is that the kind of union representation that Ironmaking likes?

          • orehandling

            That Safety guy was their at the seen when bobby was killed at work, and he was given time off for the hours accused. The guys in the department feel safety did and still does a good job even with Severstal’s lack of care for it employees.

          • tinmillman

            Do you speak for the guys of Ironmaking or for yourself? Are you one of those that believe others shouldn’t have an opinion?

          • Tom Russo

            I believe your great, step up and put your name in the basket. Then you’ll find out how imperfect you are. All the Union guy’s are doing the best they can.

          • unity

            Wht do you mean”hours accused”? Why do you continually defend wrong or bad behavior? Bobby’s wife probably doesn’t think he did such a great job.

          • Unionsucks

            how long you gonna drink the koolaid? RWB lies and you swear to it

          • hmill56

            for you guy’s that want to point the finger, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. We all no everyone of us down here has done things wrong, you just didn’t get caught. We have a great group of men and women here, we just need to get sold and everybody back to work. John, Ty or anybody else that can help!

  • oneofthenewguys

    i heard we were bought/sold as well. i would like to go back to work soon not content with collecting unemp/sub

    • Guest

      I heard they were sold with Warren and Wheeling. Hopefully the new buyer will then sell Warren and Wheeling to make all 3 seperate. Everyone at each plant wants to be a stand alone. Why wont the USW listen to the members?

      • SCARED

        Too complicated, McCall cannot let the plants go seperate. He will loose his or the USW baragaining power and then all of the local USW will fall apart. Which after todays comment from a union member, some of the union members might need to go anyway with metallities like that.

    • Layed off woman of steel

      I thing everyone whom is layed off including myself since summer would like to go back to work also instead of having to deal with the pressures of being unemployed.

  • Walter

    The Brew said – “Ternium expressed interest in supplying its booming South American markets with tinplate processed by the mill.” Yes, there is a shortage of tinplate to supply the South and Central American canning market. Here in the USA – we have switched to plastic packaging for food products because of health concerns about canned food.

    Ternium has the mines to supply high quality ore at low cost to feed L -Furnace – and then send Point-produced tinplate back to South America to supply the growing and unlimited market!

    The union must give in, as the South Americans, as well as the Russians and Chinese are not going to put up with union temper tantrums – they have non-union mills in their counties and they are not going to cave in to unions just because they are now operating in the USA.

    The only way to keep the union is to lower wages to parity with other steel producing nations and non-union mills here in the USA. If we do not give in to lower wages and benefits – the overseas investors will go elsewhere for product.

    The investors do not need us -we need them – now is the time for the union and the workers to bite the bullet and take half a loaf of bread -or we will all be out standing in the bread line!

    I do believe that our union leaders are working very hard to reach an agreement to make labor attractive to the new owners – we must give something to get something.

    The good news is that the guys out in front of the Seven -Eleven on Sparrows Point Rd. are comparing notes about how busy the millwright contractors are, the BOF, L-Furnace, Sintering, and even the outside Pig Iron operation and Caster folks are all keeping everything in order to be ready for when the startup is announced. The limos running around the Point and helicopters over the Point are not full of rock stars – they are full of billionaires looking for a plant to make money with – this the our last chance – let’s not let the new owners down!

    • Reality check

      Argentine union worker 6000 pecos $1520. yearly

      • burt

        Yearly average income for those in Argentina who have all the ammentities and nice home,car, and the freedoms that most of us have, is about $850.00

  • fedup

    I just read these comments to get a good laugh sometimes. Sparrows Point is just like a small city, or big city. Lots of “I know how to do better than this guy” and “this guy does not know what he is doing”, etc, etc. We are all just pawns in the game of life and cannot control anything that goes on with this sale period. Not pro or con for Mr. Cirri but He probably is just a pawn just like the rest of us. so everybody give each other a hug and hang on cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. I for one am so over all this I cannot see straight. Say a prayer for us all.

  • Steelcros

    I just read that Renco is the Unions pick to buy the plants, that is being reported on a Steubenville TV Station.

    • Skianbfree

      Heres hoping our International gets it right this time. Seems this headline didnt bear true. Severstal loyalty tied to security, not cash: union
      PITTSBURGH 19 June 2008 23:09

      The United Steelworkers’ union says its strong relationship with OAO Severstal is a result of the Russian steelmaker’s ability to provide wage, health and benefit security to its membership and not a “business arrangement” that has given the steelmaker an upper hand in U.S. acquisitions.

      The union said a suit by Optima International of Miami Inc. and dissident shareholders of WCI Steel Inc., Warren, Ohio, against WCI is “completely without merit.”

      Optima filed suit against WCI in Delaware Chancery Court late last week, saying that WCI’s board should have accepted its $172-million offer instead of choosing a $140-million bid from Severstal (AMM, June 19).

      Both Severstal and WCI have said the suit is without merit.

      The suit touched a nerve with a number of industry sources who noted that Severstal, based in part on its…

      Copyright © Metal Bulletin Ltd. All rights reserved.

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