Chesterton Tribune

Bethlehem Steel goes to scrap yard of history

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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 luck.”


Posted 5/1/2003