EAST CHICAGO, Ind. – As many as 1,500 union steelworkers and more than 500 salaried workers are expected to lose their jobs at LTV Corp.'s Indiana Harbor Works by Monday, bringing a rapid-response team of state unemployment officials to the area to handle the laid-off workers.
"This is the first time in the state of Indiana that there has been this large of a closure, where everything is happening at once," said Denise Dillard, executive director of Workforce Development Services, adding that it could easily push the region's unemployment rate into double digits.
LTV Corp. spokesman Mark Tomasch said workers will begin leaving the plant as their schedules are completed and salaried employees will be notified Monday. Their terminations begin immediately, he said.
Tomasch said most of the Cleveland-based company's 7,500 workers in East Chicago, Hennepin, Ill., and Cleveland will be out of a job by Sunday, with only a few hundred working after Dec. 19.
"It's not happy times up here," said Tom McDermott of the Northwest Indiana Forum economic development group. "There's a great deal of fear running through the community."
As of Nov. 1, the company's Indiana Harbor plant employed 2,067 hourly workers and 555 salaried staff.
Salaried workers won't receive severance pay or benefits after their last day. Union workers who are laid off will have health care benefits and supplemental unemployment benefits -- which pay them for 26 hours of work weekly -- through Dec. 19.
Loren Hanson, an officer with United Steelworkers of America Local 1011, said the union has been told work at the blast furnace and basic oxygen furnace will stop this weekend, and operations at the finishing mills will be done by Monday or Tuesday.
"Then it's just maintenance," he said.
The state's Workforce Development Services deployed a rapid-response team to the area, pulling together staffers from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties and Indianapolis.
The region concluded September with a 4.4 percent unemployment rate, compared with 3.9 percent in the state and 4.7 percent nationally. Dillard said they don't know what the numbers will be once the LTV layoff numbers are factored in, but it could easily push the region's unemployment rate to 10 percent or greater.
"We just don't know until we start looking at everything that's going on in manufacturing and other sectors of the economy," she said.
"We've had to mobilize to respond very quickly," Dillard said. "LTV initially told us 3,000 people and that they would be staggered out. We've already served 300 to 500 people. We expect another 1,000 or so in the next few days and the remainder next week, and that's what we're preparing for."
Dillard said there may not be any jobs available immediately. Work experience of the laid-off workers includes everything from janitorial to engineering, as well as top administrators.
"Their background and what they bring to the table will drive how quickly they can move into other industries," she said. "We'll be looking to give them supportive assistance through assessment to identify transferable skills. There will be some jobs out there, but not enough to absorb all of the people."
Reuben DeLaCruz, a 27-year company veteran, became emotional Friday when talking about Christmas with his five children.
"It's going to be a little tough, but we'll make do," he said. "The kids will have a little something, but they're not going to have a (traditional) Christmas."
Tomasch said Friday was "a pretty unhappy day."
"For the past year, all the employees have lived under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable," he said. "It's just tragic for everyone, and extraordinarily sad that the overall effort wasn't successful."
Tomasch said the company is seeking a buyer for the plant
"On a hopeful note, we will begin a concerted effort to find a buyer, as the company's configured now or on a plant-by-plant basis, to restart the plant and employ the people," Tomasch said.