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'Indefinite idling': Economy to determine fate of Hyde Park Foundry

| Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009

A weak steel market is being blamed for the "indefinite idling" of a more than century-old foundry in the borough.

About a half-dozen of the last hourly employees of the Hyde Park Foundry of Akers National Roll were laid off after finishing work Friday on winterizing and securing the plant, said Rick Rainey, president of United Steelworkers Local 1324 and a machinist at the facility.

The bulk of the 45 union employees were laid off Aug. 7, according to the union.

The foundry makes the rollers that steelmakers use to flatten steel. The steel industry now is operating at only 53 percent of capacity, said analyst Charles Bradford, a partner in Affiliated Research Group of New York.

"Until the steel industry and the steel plants come back, they don't need rolls," said Earl Schick, vice president of human resources for Akers. "If they don't need rolls, that impacts us. That's what resulted in the layoffs."

Rainey said production at the facility has been slowing -- first working three weeks, then off one week, and then down to working two weeks followed by two weeks off.

"We have been operating this facility on-and-off for more than several months. We couldn't do that anymore," Schick said.

Rainey said employees were expecting the plant to be shut down for a month, or maybe until the end of the year.

"We weren't expecting an idling of the plant. It kind of shocked everybody," he said.

Schick said this is not a permanent shutdown, but could become one at some point.

"At this time, it's an indefinite idling of this facility," Schick said.

The action does not affect Akers' other Pennsylvania facility in Avonmore, where 50 to 60 employees currently are laid off.

The company is a subsidiary of Akers AB, based in Sweden. The company has laid off workers at other facilities this year, including in Sweden.

"Our business for Hyde Park has just really fallen apart," Schick said. "If somewhere in the future business comes back we would sure as heck look to restart that place if it makes sense for us."

Schick said a state rapid response team came to help employees with benefits, unemployment compensation and retraining.

Employees with less than 20 years employment will receive six months of health benefits; those with 20 or more years will get a full year.

Most of the employees have worked there 14 to 15 years, the union said.

Rainey, 55, of Lower Burrell has worked at the foundry for 30 years. He said workers are not faulting the company or having ill feelings toward it for losing their jobs.

"I think everybody reads the paper and watches the news. They can see what's going on with the economy. It's just a tough situation," he said. "We ran out of work."

Although the steel industry is better today than earlier in the year, when output was down to 40 percent, recovery is a long way off, Bradford said.

"The automobile industry is not making too many cars. Construction is tanking big time as we talk. That's not going to come back for years to come," he said. "People just aren't buying things. People aren't putting up shopping centers, they're not building stores, they're not buying appliances, all the things that contain steel. Demand is weakened. It's the recession."

Rainey said workers will have to play a waiting game to see if the plant comes back online, or closes for good.

"It's tough. Everybody needs a job. We all need a job. We all got families," he said. "It's tough to swallow."

Additional Information:

About the foundry

The Hyde Park Foundry sits at the bottom of the borough along the Kiski River at 326 First Ave. The 114-year-old business first poured on Sept. 19, 1895, and originally did any type of metal casting. Its main product became rolling mill machinery as the steel industry emerged.

It became part of Swedish manufacturing company Akers Group in 1997, when it bought the foundry and its sister company National Roll in Avonmore.

The Akers Group operates three plants in Pennsylvania under Akers National Roll Co. • the third is in Pleasantville, Venango County.

According to the company, Hyde Park is a specialist manufacturing facility producing specialist blanks for Akers roll products.

It has a roll foundry casting hot and cold mill rolls to 40 inches in diameter for further processing at the Avonmore plant, and one vertical centrifugal casting machine and three induction melting furnaces.

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