An arbitrator has ruled that AK Steel violated its contract with its unionized workers in Ashland when it decided earlier this year to idle the plant.
The company said in May that it would idle its Ashland Works plant in late July and probably through the remainder of the year, affecting 750 hourly and salaried employees. The blast furnace plant, which produces carbon steel, had seen orders drop from automakers, and the company said there wasn't enough demand to operate the Ashland plant and one in Middletown, Ohio.
However, the company's contract with United Steelworkers Local 1865 contains a clause that states "they are supposed to run us before they run anyone else," said the local's president, Doug Campbell.
Arbitrator Raymond F. Sekula agreed.
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"So long as there is a demand for products that the Ashland Works is capable of producing, Ashland must be offered that work," he wrote in his decision.
A company spokesman declined to comment Thursday.
"The next move is up to AK," said Tony Montana, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers. "If AK decides that they want to ignore the arbitrator's decision, there are legal remedies for us to pursue."
The company had told the union's officers that it wasn't violating the contract because Ashland doesn't have the capability like Middletown to produce the full range of slab widths required by customers.
But Campbell had noted that Ashland has been producing customer orders while the Middletown furnace has been down for repairs.
The plant was previously shut down in November, but workers were brought back in January when the Middletown furnace went down, Campbell said.
The union initially filed the grievance in November but put it on hold when the company agreed to a better supplementary pay deal for workers.