AKSteel workers win victory on tax abatement

Locked out Armco-Kawasaki (AK) steelworkers in Mansfield, Ohio won a significant victory last week when the city council voted against renegotiaing with AKSteel on its 1995 tax-abatement agreement with the city.

Locked-out members of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 169 had lobbied the city to end the abatement, arguing that AK’s use of imported scabs broke the tax abatement agreement that called for AK to maintain at least 700 full-time jobs. The Tax Incentive Review Committee voted earlier this year to modify or end the abatement agreement.

The 800 members of Local 169 have been locked out by AKSteel for two and a half years. AK has attempted to run the mill with imported scabs.

The Review Committee ruling was a long-awaited victory for the embattled steelworkers. The proposal before the city council was seen as a desperate last-ditch attempt by AK to save their abatement, worth over $2 million per year to the company. AK lost over $2 million this past year, so the abatement fight is an important one.

“AK lost that argument already,” stated Mike Zelinsky, a USWA representative, referring to the attempt to renegotiate the agreement. “By renegotiating you’d just be giving AK a do-over to reward them for breaking the law. AK is ripping off the people of Mansfield as well as the steelworkers and their families.”

City councilman Gary Utt, who is also a United Auto Workers officer, voted against any renegotiation of the agreement, stating; “The abatement is an abomination! It should’ve been ended two years ago when the workers were locked out. Renegotiation is just a delaying tactic by AK, trying to keep their abatement, and it won’t work!”

The issue will now go to the Richland County Commissioners, hopefully for final action. Steelworkers and their allies are planning to pack the commissioners’ meeting demanding a final end to the abatement until a fair contract is achieved for the locked-out steelworkers.

“This is a major victory,” stated Ray Delarwelle, a locked-out member of Local 169. “It brings us one step closer to final victory!”

The author can be reached at bruceb@erienet.net