The top management of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. resigned yesterday in a move to end a two-month strike that threatens to put the company out of business.
Wheeling-Pittsburgh Chairman Dennis J. Carney, two of his vice presidents, and four of the company's outside directors said they were stepping down to clear the way for new managers who might have a better chance of ending the strike by the United Steelworkers union.
George A. Ferris, 69, a former Ford Motor Co. vice president who oversaw the auto maker's Rouge Steel operations in Dearborn, Mich., is under consideration to replace Carney, Wheeling-Pittsburgh officials said.
Carney had been trying to lead his company out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where Wheeling-Pittsburgh has been since last April 16, seeking protection from creditors who are owed nearly $500 million.
The company is now operating under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy codes, which means it has a chance to save itself by cutting costs and taking other steps to reorganize its operations.
Carney was trying to keep the company from slipping into Chapter 13 of the law, under which Wheeling-Pittsburgh, the nation's seventh largest steel maker, would have to shutter its nine plants in three states and liquidate all of its assets in an attempt to satisfy creditors.
Carney's efforts to avoid that eventuality led him to abrogate the union's contract on July 17 and to slash labor costs -- wages and benefits chief among them -- on the same date.
The USW, which represents 8,200 Wheeling-Pittsburgh workers in Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania, called a retaliatory strike on July 21.
Since then, the company and the union have been entrenched in their positions, frequently exchanging rhetorical fire, but making no discernible progress toward a resolution of the conflict.
Carney, often described as "combative," decided to yield under pressure from Allen Paulson, Wheeling-Pittsburgh's largest shareholder. Paulson is expected to take a more conciliatory approach to the union, some steel industry analysts say.
For his part, Carney said yesterday that his withdrawal was tactical, not ideological.
"It is unfortunate that the International Union of the United Steelworkers of America and its leaders have elected to cause extensive damage to the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation by ignoring the U.S. marketplace and world competition in steel and ignoring the overriding fact that Wheeling-Pittsburgh is bankrupt," Carney said.
He reiterated his long-held contention that Wheeling-Pittsburgh "cannot satisfy" the USW's demands.
Paul Rusen, the USW's chief negotiator in the dispute, said in an earlier interview that he consider's Carney's resignation "very statesmanlike." Rusen said he believes that Carney's replacement will "be more reasonable" in dealing with the union.