USW, Howmet to Meet Today over Idling Melt Shop

NILES, Ohio – Representatives of the United Steel Workers union are expected to be back at the table with executives at Howmet Aerospace Thursday to discuss the fate of its titanium melting operations here.

“We’re in talks trying to maintain that shop,” said Jose Arroyo, district director of USW District 1 and Sub District 1. “We’ve been at the table around the clock all this week and we’re trying to get an agreement to retain as many jobs at this facility as possible.”

About 450 USW members are employed at the plant and about 100 are currently on layoff, he said. Arroyo said the company has proposed idling the Niles plant’s melt shop “until future notice.” 

That’s precisely what Arroyo and the USW want to prevent.  

“We want to make sure these furnaces are running,” he said. “Our goal is not to idle this melt shop.”

He said the company would incur enormous costs were it to shut down the melt shop and then attempt to restart the operations.  “Even in a good environment, it’s costly and problematic,” he said.

Retaining the melt shop means retaining jobs, Arroyo emphasized.  

Production at the Howmet plant, which separated from Arconic last year, has been under pressure since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and severely disrupted the commercial aerospace industry, Arroyo said.  

“The capacity of titanium needed for commercial air has plummeted due to the COVD-19 virus,” he said. 

In July, the company and union crafted an agreement that adjusted workforce according to demand across Howmet’s facilities. “The capacity continues to get worse,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, on Wednesday released a letter dated Feb. 5 in which he urged Merrick Murphy, president of Howmet Structure and Wheel Systems operations in Cleveland, to explore other avenues instead of shutting down the Niles furnaces.

He said a decision to shutter the melt operation would have “a demoralizing impact on the workforce now and possibly into the future.”

“Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching economic consequences disrupting aerospace and defense companies across the nation, but through no fault of the hard-working employees who may lose their jobs,” Ryan continued. “I hope that every available option to alleviate a downsizing would be examined and fully exhausted.”

Ryan, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, said he’s worked with Howmet on a variety of federal matters in the past such as laws that encourage buying from American manufacturers, funding for titanium-based defense products and a titanium stockpile. “I hope that both sides can come together and seek an amicable resolution,” he wrote. 

Company spokesman Paul Erwin said in a statement confirmed in an email that Howmet is continuing negotiations with union leadership regarding staffing levels needed at its Niles, Ohio operation.

“Howmet’s discussions with United Steelworkers (USW) representatives on potential impacts to their membership are ongoing and we want to respect that process,” he said. “At this time, no decision has been made regarding staffing levels or operating levels at the Niles facility. We remain committed to working with USW to preserve jobs and support the long-term viability of the Niles Operations to serve our commercial aerospace and defense customers.”

Arroyo said he’s aware of the congressman’s letter and that USW Local 2155 has also contacted U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office regarding the matter. 

Howmet produces titanium at the former RMI Titanium plant on Warren Avenue in Niles. The plant dates to the 1950s, as the United States began to use lighter, high-strength metals such as titanium in fighter jets and early space exploration efforts.

Titanium soon became an important material used in the commercial aerospace industry by manufacturing giants such as Boeing and Airbus. 

Arroyo said that preventing a shutdown now would help secure the future of the plant and those that work there. 

“That’s the goal, to make sure we’re here for the future,” he said.  

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.