BURLINGTON CITY -- U.S. Pipe & Foundry, one of the survi vors of central New Jersey's manufacturing past, is cutting almost all of its workforce here.
The company, which celebrated its centennial in 1999, announced yesterday it would cut 180 jobs and cease manufacturing iron pipe at its Pearl Street plant, leaving only about 15 workers to run a distribution center.
The jobs will be phased out by January or February, according to company spokeswoman Nancy Young. U.S. Pipe is a division of Atlanta-based Mueller Water Products. Three other U.S. Pipe operations, in North Birmingham and Bessemer in Alabama and in Union City, Calif., will continue operating, and Burlington workers will be given preferential consideration for job openings at those sites.
Over the past 20 years, U.S. Pipe has employed approximately 350 workers. As recently as 2001, it had about 300, but it has been reducing its workforce during the last few years.
According to Young, the cutbacks are necessary to help U.S. Pipe remain competitive globally. "It is a key component of what we are trying to accomplish," she said.
"When dealing with an older plant, it is just hard to modernize," she said. Instead, the company is building a new "mini-mill" in Alabama, adjacent to an existing plant, according to Young.
Ray Torek, president of U.S. Pipe, said in a prepared statement, "The decision to close this facility was exceptionally difficult because of the efforts our Burlington employees have made to keep the plant a viable part of our manufacturing operations. Yet, we know we have to be the low-cost producer of ductile iron pipe if we are to maintain a leadership position in our market and also continue to build the strong base necessary for future growth."
Gregory E. Hyland, president and CEO of Mueller Water Products, said in a prepared release, "To be globally competitive in our ductile iron pipe business, we must constantly strive to be the low-cost producer."
The workers at U.S. Pipe are members of U.S. Steelworkers Local 2026, but their staff representative, John Shinn, could not be reached for comment.
However, Michael Russo, president of U.S. Steelworkers Local 4889 just across the Delaware River in Falls, Pa., saw the cutbacks in Burlington City as symptomatic of what is happening throughout the industry. "In this environment, pipe is a major issue," he said. "The steelworkers, the politicians and many constituents have lobbied their elected officials to stem the tide of cheaply traded and dumped pipe here in the United States, and it's somewhat fallen on deaf ears."
"The pipe that is coming in from China is putting our producers out of work," Russo said, criticizing how foreign governments subsidize their own industry and pay their own workers very low wages. "This should not be a Wal- Mart economy," he said. "Manufacturing will cease to exist if we continue these unfair trade practices."
In connection with the cutbacks, U.S. Pipe will record a restructuring charge of approximately $19 million, most of which will be taken in the first quarter of next year. This will be composed of about $15 million of asset write-offs and about $4 million in cash costs, including severance packages.
The company traces its history to 1899 when American Pipe and Foundry Co. merged with eight other pipe producers to form U.S. Cast Iron Pipe and Foundry Co. American Pipe itself had been created a year earlier when four companies merged.