Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Allegheny County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Mon Valley communities are reliant on the helping hands of summer workers as they battle blight through maintenance projects.
In third class cities such as McKeesport and Clairton — once-thriving mill towns that decreased in population and economic activity with the decline of the steel industry in the 1970s and ’80s — cityscapes have changed over the years.
Many neighborhoods that were lined with well-kept homes transformed into urban decay where residential properties are separated by overgrown lots and dilapidated structures. With an increase in problem lots and a decrease in staff to maintain them, the cities rely on young workers eager to gain job experience during their time off from high school and college.
“Our public works department is bare bones,” Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi said. “They prioritize on snow removal, grass-cutting of city-owned properties and potholes throughout the year. Summer help gives an opportunity for some of our youth to make a few dollars and supplement what public works is doing.”
The $1.8 billion charge U.S. Steel announced Friday is the first of several moves that industry analysts expect new CEO Mario Longhi will make to revitalize a company that has not had a profitable year since 2008.
Mr. Longhi, who took over Sept. 1 for John P. Surma, has been given a mandate to drastically slash costs and increase efficiency. So far, the former Alcoa executive has been largely silent about how he intends to do that. But analysts expect Mr. Longhi to rip a page from the playbook that most new CEOs rely on by getting the bad news out of the way early in his tenure.
Among the measures analysts expect is shutting at least one of the company’s plants. They cite the glut of current capacity as well as new mills being built that are targeting one of U.S. Steel’s most profitable markets: tubular products used in the oil and gas industry.
“We remain in a structurally over-supplied market,” said analyst Gordon Johnson of Axiom Capital Management in New York City. “Supply is going to continue to grow at an unhealthy clip.”
But a day after Exide announced plans to idle the plant and lay off 150 employees by March 31, the commissioners said Friday that they were not celebrating the news.
“We take no joy in the loss of jobs in Berks County,” Commissioner Mark C. Scott said, “but I don’t think we’re willing to trade public health for jobs.”
In the past two years, the county has appealed two separate permits issued to Exide. According to the commissioners, the permits fell short of what is needed to comply with national air standards and do not require the company to continue operating a network of air monitors around the plant.
Upset but not surprised. That’s how union leaders characterized their reactions to the news of Sunoco, Inc.’s sweeping changes to its business structure, including the departure of Chief Executive Officer Lynn Elsenhans.
“It’s not surprising that she is moving on. I was expecting it, anyway. She doesn’t run refineries, she just dismantles them and moves on,” said Dave Miller, president of United Steelworkers Local 10-901 representing the Marcus Hook Sunoco workers.
“I’m curious to see where she is going next. I’d be the first one to call them and give them a heads up: Better get your affairs in order.”
After arriving at Sunoco in 2008 and subsequently dismantling the company’s Marcus Hook refinery operations, Elsenhans announced during Thursday’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call that she is stepping down as the company’s chief executive officer and board chairman at the end of the month.