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Bethlehem Steel Will Close Factory

December 30, 1997

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) _ Bethlehem Steel Corp. said Monday it would shut down its last factory in its hometown, cutting 800 jobs in the company’s latest downsizing.

The company said it was closing the money-losing coke division by the end of March. Coke, a key ingredient in iron production, is a coal residue used as fuel.

Bethlehem closed its last steelmaking furnace in Bethlehem two years ago, but a skeleton crew continued non-steelmaking operations.

Some employees will be transferred to other units, but 600 workers will be affected by the closing. A majority of those will be entitled to immediate retirement benefits, Bethlehem Steel said.

Ed O’Brien, assistant director of the United Steel Workers local, called the announcement ``another slap in the face″ to local steelworkers.

``It seems that Bethlehem (Steel) is more interested in the development of its museum there on the South Side of Bethlehem than in the well-being of its employees,″ he said.

The company and the Smithsonian Institution are working together to develop an industrial history museum on company land. Bethlehem Steel has created a nonprofit organization to create and operate the museum.

Bethlehem Steel said it would try to sell the coke division over the next several months, but that no immediate buyers had stepped forward.

When the coke plant shuts down, Bethlehem will be home to just the company’s headquarters. The firm gradually has closed operations in the region, shutting down most of its flagship plant in November 1995.

Since then, local officials have been seeking ways to revive business in the area. Other projects under consideration for the closed site include an ice rink, movie theaters and restaurants.

The company has bid $400 million for Lukens Inc., the nation’s oldest operating steel firm. But the bid was challenged last week when Allegheny Teledyne Inc. made an unsolicited $465 million bid for Lukens.

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