Kaiser reports fourth-quarter loss

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 1, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / Febuary 1, 1999

GRAMERCY – Kaiser Aluminum reported fourth-quarter net losses of $38.9million Thursday, or 49 cents per common share. In the same period of1997. It’s net income stood at $14.2 million.The impact of the strike, which began at the end of September 1998, was reflected in what Kaiser termed as $50 million in “non-recurring pre-tax items” of unanticipated expense and lost production.

In response, the United Steelworkers of America commented, “The $50 million in strike costs dwarfs the cost of the union’s proposal.

“Had the company obeyed the law and negotiated in good faith with its employees, it would have avoided the strike and made substantial profits during the fourth quarter,” said USWA chief negotiator David Foster.

Foster added the company’s lockout “not only squandered $50 million, but risks $3.3 million per week in back pay liability if the union’s unfair laborpractice charges are upheld.”USWA Local 5702 spokesman Sam Thomas commented: “It’s a confirmation of what we’ve been saying all along.”Kaiser chairman George T. Haymaker Jr. said the strike by members of theUSWA forced the company to incur a number of unusual expenses – operating five affected facilities with salaried employees and replacement workers – and foregoing sales volume from three temporarily idled potlines.

Haymaker said the company has benefitted from the experience and claimed, “The five plants have run very well since the strike and have achieved a variety of performance milestones.”At Gramercy, those milestones are said to include: The operating rate was above 90 percent within days of the strike’s commencement and remained between 90 and 100 percent throughout the fourth quarter.

Manhours spent for maintenance turnaround time on the digestion heater channel change was cut by 63 percent.

Manhours spent for maintenance turnaround time on the washer units was reduced by 13 percent.

On the other hand, Thomas noted, “If the plants were operating at or near 100 percent as claimed, they wouldn’t have those losses. We know better.”The costs are continuing to mount. They’re losing money every day.”Foster said the company has a choice.

“Kaiser can continue on the road to ruin by running a makeshift operation staffed by unskilled, inexperienced temporary replacements. Or it cannegotiate for real productivity improvements with its skilled workforce.”In a side note, an anonymous tipster to the state highway department regarding the strikers’ “Camp Creole” shack at Kaiser’s main gate on Airline Highway attracted a DOTD inspector Thomas said the inspector looked at the “camp” and affirmed it posed no danger to passing traffic, nor to vehicles entering and leaving the plant.

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