UPDATE: Howmet to Invest $4.2M at Niles Plant as Part of New Union Contract

Updated 1:45 p.m. with information about Howmet’s investment at the plant.
NILES, Ohio – Howmet Aerospace will invest at least $4.2 million into its titanium mill here under an agreement reached with the United Steelworkers that will result in additional layoffs. 

Howmet spokesman Paul Erwin did not say how many positions might be affected, but confirmed the agreement had been reached. 

“We appreciate the willingness of USW representatives to work together with us, as we all navigate the pandemic to support the long-term viability of the Niles operations,” he said in the emailed statement.

Howmet was in discussions with the plant’s union, USW Local 2155, over whether to idle the melt furnaces because of collapsed titanium demand. The aviation sector, a major titanium customer, has been one of the hardest hit industries during the COVID-19 pandemic because of lower business and leisure travel. 

Howmet, a Pittsburgh-based company that spun off from Arconic in April 2020, specializes in jet engine components, aerospace fasteners, aerostructures and forged aluminum wheels. It operates the former RMI Titanium plant in Niles.

In the statement, Erwin said the agreement extends the current pact with workers at the mill by 24 months through April 2024. Under the pact, the Niles Melt Operations will operate with the ability to flex volumes based on demand from customers. Howmet will invest at least $1.8 million over the next two years into the melt facility to add capacity and improve operations to position Niles for the recovery of the aerospace market. Another $2.4 million will be invested into non-melt operations at the site this year.

“Due to the ongoing decline in customer demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a need for additional layoffs at Niles impacting both hourly and salaried positions,” Erwin said. “We will continue working closely with the USW on staffing levels.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, lamented the layoffs in a news release late Friday morning announcing the agreement. 

“COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of our lives and our economy, and the aerospace and defense industry has not been immune. The negotiations to downsize the Niles plant were especially concerning given the local workforce that resides in Niles and the surrounding communities,” he said. “These conversations are never easy, but several tough decisions had to be made.” 

Just three years ago, the plant employed 700 workers. According to Jose Arroyo, district director of USW District 1 Sub District 1, the plant has 450 employees working now and 100 on layoff. 

In the release, USW 2155 President Terry Thirion expressed his gratitude to the negotiators, his members and the people in the community who supported the union, including Ryan, whose “assistance and support was highly valuable” in achieving the agreement. 

“These were challenging negotiations and while we did not win everything we wanted, the final outcome means Howmet’s Niles plant will continue to employ our members for the foreseeable future and be the beneficiary of millions in new investments that will make our facility more competitive,” he said. 

“The reduction in workforce is painful, especially to the families who will lose a working paycheck. My heart goes out to them,” Ryan said. “However, the agreement to extend the contract through April of 2024 and keep the melt furnace operating is a huge win for the viability of the plant.”

He also acknowledged the efforts of the USW team that negotiated the agreement “under tremendously difficult circumstances” and further pledged to fight for Howmet and USW members on matters affecting their business and livelihoods from his position as vice-chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.