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Hundreds accept steel deal

| Thursday, Aug. 21, 2003

If early returns from the Mon Valley are accurate, U.S. Steel Corp. will have no trouble reaching its goal of cutting its work force by 20 percent, a target set when the Pittsburgh-based company acquired most of the assets of National Steel Corp. in May.

Based on current estimates, about 650 unionized workers at the company's three Pittsburgh area plants are expected to leave by accepting an attractive incentive package to retire under the company's new contract with the United Steelworkers of America. The contract covers 19,000 workers at U.S. Steel and National Steel facilities across the country.

As of Wednesday, hundreds of steelworkers at those plants are applying for the package, according to a local USW official.

"More than enough are applying," said Richard Pastore, a staff representative for District 10 of the USW, who works with local unions at the company's Irvin plan in West Mifflin and at the Clairton Coke Works.

Pastore said 289 workers of the 1,100 people who work at the Irvin plant had come to the union hall of Local 2227 to sign applications for the benefits package, which includes a lump-sum payment of either $40,000 or $10,000, with eligibility based on age and years of service.

That was two days before Friday's deadline, which was established in the company's contract with the USW.

"Some people actually may be disappointed," Pastore said. If the company holds strictly to the 20 percent reduction target for each plant, it would mean about 220 workers will be able to take the package at the Irvin plant.

John Mazzoni, president of USW Local 1219 at the Edgar Thomson plant in Braddock, estimated that about 60 people from that plant's 750-person unionized work force had applied so far, but said he believes more will take the step in the next two days.

"I think a lot of people are holding out until the last minute," he said.

The 20 percent target would mean about 150 retirements at the Braddock plant and another 280 at the Clairton Works, where the USW-represented work force is about 1,400.

However, such figures are not set in stone, said U.S. Steel spokesman Mike Dixon, who said the company is still working to determine its staffing needs and plans for facilities throughout the corporation.

The review also covers reductions in management personnel, including at the company's headquarters Downtown.

About 1,400 to 1,500 nonunion employees work at the U.S. Steel Tower Downtown, at a facility housing information technology and other staff on the South Side, at its StraightLine Internet steel service center operation in the Strip District and its Monroeville-based technology center.

"We are not necessarily just looking to do business with less people," Dixon said. "We are conducting a very complete and thorough review process, looking at how we can do business going forward in the most efficient and effective way possible."

Dixon said there already have been some initial reductions in management personnel in Pittsburgh, some through voluntary retirement and layoffs. But he declined to supply a number. He said it is still early in the process, which is expected to continue until at least the end of the year.

The company's combined work force totals about 28,500 workers, meaning the total cutbacks could reach about 5,700 people.

When U.S. Steel reported its second-quarter earnings earlier this month, the company said it would record a $500 million charge in the second half of 2003 to pay for work force reductions.

At that time, the company reported that about 1,700 workers corporatewide had already accepted the early-retirement packages, and also said it had reduced management at former National Steel facilities from 1,500 to 1,000 employees.

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