United Steelworkers President Lynn Williams on Tuesday said his union's walkout at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel is not likely to force the company out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and into Chapter 7 liquidation any time soon.
"Their cash position, in fact, has improved significantly since they were in Chapter 11 from what it was before," Williams said. "Their expenses have been reduced. They're selling some things. So, in the short run, nothing dramatic is going to happen."
Officials of the nation's seventh-largest steel producer have said a strike will force it to liquidate. About 8,200 USW members began picketing plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia on July 21, protesting the company's decision to dissolve the labor contract and slash wages and benefits.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Warren W. Bentz, meanwhile, ordered the company Tuesday to inform all of the parties in its bankruptcy case beforehand if company officials ever decide to file for liquidation.
Bentz also granted the company's request to extend the period during which only Wheeling-Pittsburgh is authorized to file a reorganization plan. The judge gave the steelmaker an additional 60 days and urged the company and union to cooperate in drafting the plan.
Williams said the dispute at Wheeling-Pittsburgh probably cannot be resolved until the company softens its demands for lower labor costs.
The nation's first major steel strike since 1959 entered its 24th day Tuesday with both sides still deadlocked over what level of worker concessions are necessary to help the financially troubled company emerge from reorganization.
The two sides have not bargained since the hours before the walkout.
"We're interested in constructive solutions . . . trying to develop an honorable solution that does as little damage to our members and their standard of living and their futures as possible and gives the company the opportunity to reorganize and go on and become a viable company," Williams said.
The USW president spoke at a news conference preceding the annual summer meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council, meeting this year for three days in Pittsburgh.
Council members criticized Bentz for authorizing Wheeling-Pittsburgh to dissolve its labor contract, a move that triggered the walkout when union leaders rejected the steelmaker's announcement that wages and benefits would be cut 18.5%. The USW says the cuts actually amount to nearly 30%.
"The bankruptcy judge misinterpreted the law," the AFL-CIO council said in a printed statement.
USW members have granted concessions worth $141 million since 1982, while Wheeling-Pittsburgh's creditors collected more than $200 million in principal and interest, the council said.