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National Tube Works shuttered in McKeesport | TribLIVE.com
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National Tube Works shuttered in McKeesport

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Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Bearing pink slips, U.S. Steel McKeesport Tubular Operations employees check in with plant security on their way out on Friday, the final day of operations.

At the last vestige of the old National Tube Works in McKeesport, 117 years of pipemaking came to a quiet end on Friday.

U.S. Steel's McKeesport Tubular Operations, an electric resistance weld plant producing standard line pipe, will be “idled indefinitely,” company officials said.

In small groups throughout the day, employees filed out, carrying literal pink slips marking the end of U.S. Steel's operation there.

Several approached for comment waved off a reporter.

The idling affects approximately 160 members of United Steelworkers Local 5852 and 20 U.S. Steel Tubular Division management personnel.

Company and union officials did not return requests for comment on Friday.

The end for McKeesport and a tubular plant in Bellville, Texas, was announced on June 2, in accord with the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. It reduced the number of U.S. Steel Tubular Division plants to eight.

The layoffs in McKeesport and Bellville leave U.S. Steel with 2,900 Tubular Division employees in Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio and Texas.

The company said the reduction would enable it to operate more profitably as it repositions to meet future customer demand.

“U.S. Steel remains fully committed to the tubular products business and to serving our tubular customers,” company CEO Mario Longhi said on June 2. “While these are difficult decisions, they are necessary in order to return our company to sustainable profitability and position us for future growth.”

There was a lack of fanfare for the idling and when U.S. Steel took back from Camp-Hill Corp. the mill across the CSX tracks from the downtown business district.

Camp-Hill ran the electric resistance weld mill from December 1987 until May 2011.

Seamless pipe was made there with outside diameters ranging from 2.063 to 26 inches, as well as electric resistance weld pipe with outside diameters from 8.625 to 20 inches.

As Camp-Hill president Ross Hillegass said in 2007, the mill made “piling pipe … for structural purposes, for foundations where there is unsuitable ground.”

In late April 2011, as new signs and flags went up on the walls of the Camp-Hill facility, corporate representatives in Pittsburgh were reluctant to make any public statement about the transfer to U.S. Steel.

The union had little to say, either.

“We believe the situation will be good in the long term for both the workers and the company,” Steelworkers spokesman Wayne Ranick said.

Camp-Hill employees had to reapply for their jobs. Union officials said there was no successor clause in their contract with Camp-Hill.

In November 2012, U.S. Steel laid off 142 of 237 employees then on the payroll, blaming a high level of unfairly traded steel pipe exports into the United States.

By the following spring the rank-and-file workforce was back to 151. At that time U.S. Steel and Local 5852 were involved in talks on a new contract.

Sources said one proposal was rejected by union members before a second was approved by a 2-1 margin on June 7, 2013.

The contract had to be altered prior to Friday's idling of the plant.

“We renegotiated a transfer over to the Mon Valley Works,” United Steelworkers Local 5852 president Mark Fronczek said on June 28.

Employees were given an option to transfer from McKeesport Tubular Operations to limited openings at the Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, the Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock and the Clairton coke plant.

“That all depends on how many jobs they have,” Fronczek said. “There aren't that many. The steel industry is hurting with imports and all.”

Few openings were available at the time, though the company posted six openings with another division, the Union Railroad.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or [email protected].

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