First Union Figure Becomes Director At Major Steelmaker
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Retired United Steelworkers negotiator Paul D. Rusen Jr. became the first union official ever to become a director of a major U.S. steel corporation when Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel seated him by a unanimous vote.
Rusen, 50, a union man for three decades, led the USW in fashioning an innovative settlement to a bitter 98-day strike that was driving the financially troubled corporation toward liquidation.
″We have a first,″ company Chairman Allen E. Paulson said Wednesday at a news conference. ″We’re glad to have him. I think he can bring a lot to the company.″
″I think I bring to the table the human issues,″ Rusen said. ″I think I can bring to people who are making the financial decisions a clear understanding of the people who work in the mills.″
Union representation on boards of directors is a trend in corporate America. One of the first was then United Auto Workers President Douglas Fraser, who joined the Chrysler Corp. board in 1980. After he retired he was succeeded on the board by current UAW leader Owen Bieber.
″I’ve been around Wheeling-Pitt all my life. I never thought I’d sit in this position,″ said Rusen, a native of Bradley, Ohio, who was raised in a steelworking family and joined the union at age 17. ″I consider it a privilege to serve on the board of directors.″
The honor was won through a difficult labor dispute that saw former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Chairman Dennis Carney ousted along with his top managers.
Led by Rusen, 8,200 USW members struck rather than allow Carney to slash employee wages and benefits.
The settlement gave blue-collar workers a firm voice in running the company they helped with consecutive contract concessions worth more than $140 million since 1982.
Union representatives also sit on a ″mini-board″ that helps direct company operations and resolve grievances.
″The atmosphere today is 180 degrees from where it was seven or eight months ago,″ Rusen said. ″It’s nothing to walk into a plant and see (chief executive) George Ferris walking around. It’s nothing unusual to see George Ferris having a beer with the boys.″
Another priority for the new board member is moving headquarters quickly to to Wheeling, W.Va., home of a predecessor company.
″Wheeling Steel was born in Wheeling, W.Va., and moving corporate headquarters to Pittsburgh is still something that’s hard for us to understand,″ he said. ″The major facilities are in Wheeling and Steubenville. There’s a huge corporate office sitting down there vacant, deteriorating. You’ve got staff in Pittsburgh. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.″
Wheeling-Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has cleared legal hurdles that threatened to block a $60 million loan needed to carry the company through a slump in payments from customers, officials said.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Warren Bentz last week authorized the loan, which comes on top of a $530 million debt that forced Wheeling-Pittsburgh into Chapter 11 reorganization. But a New York lender, Irving Trust Co., said it might withdraw its credit offer over possible claims against company assets by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
″The loan is virtually completed,″ said Ferris.
Rusen said he is confident Wheeling-Pittsburgh’s reorganization in bankruptcy court will succeed.