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West Coast steel mill to close

EMERYVILLE, Calif. -- Financially struggling Judson Steel Corp. will shut its 104-year-old melting and rolling plant on Labor Day.

The closing, one day after Judson's labor contract with the United Steelworkers union expires, will mean the loss of 204 jobs, a union spokesman said Friday.

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Judson was one of the last West Coast steel mills. Other mills run by companies such as Bethlehem Steel Corp. and Pacific States Steel closed in recent years because of intense competition from steel companies in Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

The Judson company will continue to operate several steel fabrication plants, including one in Emeryville, where steel rods are shaped into finished products, a spokesman said.

Union officials said they were given no hint of the plant closing before the announcement.

'People were told when they came to work for the afternoon shift,' said Herman Scott, president of United Steelworkers Local 1441, which represents workers at the Emeryville plant.

'That was the first I heard about it. That was the first anybody heard about it.'

The closing came as management was beginning to negotiate a new contract with the steelworkers. The current three-year pact, which expires Sunday, was forged after a four-month strike in 1983. In that agreement the union accepted wage cuts of about $1.50 an hour and cuts in vacation and holiday benefits after officials of the plant, which had lost money for seven straight years, threatened to close the mill.

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The steelworkers have gotten back about half of the wages they gave up, but management had asked them to take another 80-cents-an-hour cut in the new contract, Scott said. The union refused and Judson decided to close the factory, he said.

'Our feeling is that on the first of September the contract is up, and management didn't want to raise the cost of labor,' Scott said.

Judson employees earned between $12 and $15 an hour, he said.

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