By KEVIN NEVERS
Its plate built the Liberty ships which saved Great Britain from starvation
in World War II. Its girders support the superstructure of the Golden Gate
Bridge in San Francisco. Its I-beams scrape the skies of New York City.
Bethlehem Steel Corporation helped to build this nation—and to rally it in
its darkest hours—but in the end a pen was mightier than its steel.
At 2 p.m. CST Bethlehem Chair and CEO Robert “Steve” Miller Jr. began
signing the documents which transfer the bankrupt company’s assets to
International Steel Group, and a magnificent chapter in America’s industrial
and military history came to a close. He will continue signing documents
through May 6. But the meat of the transaction—what Miller called its
“financial metrics”—has been finalized with a stroke of the pen, with many
strokes actually, and at midnight Wednesday ISG formally assumed fiduciary
responsibility for Bethlehem’s mills.
“All of the working capital adjustments and the other intricate parts of the
transaction are effective as of today,” Miller said at a teleconference late
Wednesday afternoon. “And the financial responsibility for the future of the
corporation starts tomorrow for the benefit of International Steel Group.”
Wednesday was noteworthy for two other reasons. Although ISG has elected to
retain around 1,200 of Bethlehem’s salaried employees, 450 whom it does not
need officially reported to work for the last time: 168 at Burns Harbor
Division, 125 at the Sparrows Point, Md., Division; 64 at corporate
headquarters in Bethlehem, Pa.; and the rest divided among the company’s
other facilities. Those employees will receive varying severance packages.
Also on Wednesday the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation formally
commenced its administration of Bethlehem’s terminated pension plans.
“Today is a milestone day,” Miller said, but a “bittersweet” one as well.
“It’s the end of the era for the Bethlehem Steel name,” and while its assets
have been saved from liquidation and the jobs of thousands of members of the
United Steelworkers of America preserved, the company’s 95,000 retirees have
lost their health-care and life-insurance benefits. “It’s not everything we
had hoped to achieve for the retirees of Bethlehem Steel.”
Meanwhile, Miller plans to spend the next few days with pen in hand. “Pieces
of property are scattered all over the states of Indiana, Pennsylvania, New
York, and Maryland,” he said, and stacks of deeds and permits remain to be
transferred. The process should end Tuesday.
Miller noted that at the closing of the federal bailout of Chrysler
Corporation in 1980, as vice-chair of the company he personally put his
signature on “10,000 individual pieces of paper.” The ISG deal is not quite
as elaborate, Miller said, but it’s complex enough. “I would expect that
there will be a ton more documents to sign.”
After the completion of the closing Tuesday, Bethlehem will continue to
exist as a legal entity for the next three to four months and a skeleton
staff will remain at corporate headquarters to administer the technical
details of the bankruptcy. When that process concludes, the company will be
dissolved and endure only in memory. “There’s a certain amount of sadness
with the passing of Bethlehem Steel,” Miller said, “especially in the
Leheigh Valley” which for 99 years was the company’s home. “But a certain
amount of excitement too at the new beginning.”
For his part ISG CFO Mitch Hecht was celebrating today not only the closing
but the announcement by the American Iron and Steel Institute that new ISG-Burns
Harbor General Manager John Mang has been named Plant Manager of the Year.
“We offer our congratulation to our new ISG employees on joining the ISG
family,” he said. “We are also quite proud and think it’s fitting that John
Mang has been (honored). We wish him and all our new employees the best of