Say owner ignoring offer for closed plant

Laid off steelworkers take to street

By Marc Strauss

July 15, 2010 Updated Jul 22, 2009 at 6:19 PM CDT

Everyday for 33 years Kathy Bohm went to work at the steel mill in Hennepin. Then suddenly, Kathy and the rest of the plant's 285 employees were laid off.

"At times it gets pretty darn sad," Bohm told News 25. "We’re frustrated because it’s out of our hands and it’s not our fault that he’s taken our jobs from us."

The laid off steelworkers say the mill shouldn't close because it's been turning a profit. They blame the owner, Lakshmi Mittal, one of the wealthiest men in the world, and say he's bent on moving their jobs out of the country. On Wednesday the community held a prayer vigil in the shadow of the idle plant in hopes of changing his mind.

"We need to keep this plant open," said Mike O'Connor, a laid off employee who worked at the plant for 40 years. " We’re fighting a very large corporation in Arcelor Mittal that I believe has an agenda to shut down small plants like this all across the United States."

What's most frustrating to the laid off steelworkers is that their jobs could be saved. A California businessman named Russell Kingston has made an offer to buy the plant and rehire everyone. Arcelor Mittal, however, doesn't appear interested.

"The company told Congressman Aaron Schock and Senator Durbin that if they had an offer of $100-million they would consider that a point to start negotiations. Mr. Kingston has certainly made an offer in that range," said Dave York, the president of the local steelworkers union.

Terry Judd is a small businessman in Hennepin who participated in Wednesday's rally. He admires the attempt by his neighbors to make their voices heard.

"For a little town like this, what these people are doing here today, I’m very proud of this community. If he’s ever going to listen I would think it would be now."

Hennepin mayor Kevin Coleman worries what the quality of life will be like without the steel mill.

"When they built this plant in the 1960’s it set standards that this community didn’t have," said Coleman. "Hennepin was a farm community back then and when the steel mill came in the standards were set a little bit higher. Everything in town is so much nicer because of the steel mill."

For now, local contractors are refusing to dismantle equipment inside the plant in deference to the laid off steelworkers. But if there's no sale that equipment will remain idle.

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